One Hundred Thoughts

Chas goes back to one of his favorite structural gimmicks and shares one hundred thoughts on his mind with you today, mostly about Magic finance and the game at large.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a storyteller.

To be fair, I wanted to be a lot of things as a kid. My first dream was to be the first US President who had also won a gold medal in the Olympics, but I gave that dream up when I realized that world leaders and swimmers don’t get to read comic books all day.

I moved from Northern California to New England in the summer between first and second grade. My parents rented a place in New Hampshire while searching for the house in Massachusetts that they would ultimately buy. For a few months I attended a small elementary school in Hollis. Not only was I the new kid, but I knew we would be moving on again before long. Any friends I made were likely going to be people I’d never have the chance to see again.

While most people played kickball or soccer during recess, I gravitated toward a small patch of oily water that usually collected in a pothole on the edge of the driveway. The oil had probably leaked from an old school bus, and it clung to the top of the water in a translucent rainbow film. Using rocks and sticks I fashioned an aqueduct and a series of pools in the dirt and clay embankment that ran down from the driveway to the recess yard.

Bizarrely enough, my peewee public-works project began to interest people. Other kids in the class started coming over and helping me build channels in the mud. Pretty soon older meaner kids started coming over and destroying what we had built because children are basically just pack animals with worse hair. After a few weeks the teachers began to catch on, and we were banned from going near that side of the playground.

By this point it was almost summer, and my parents had found the house that we would occupy for the next fifteen years. I bid farewell to Hollis and prepared for a fresh start at a brand new school. This time, though, I was ready. I knew that my stories about the showdown over the playground oil slick would make me a freaking legend in my new class. I drew up a little book with pictures, and imagined myself sitting at the front of the classroom captivating everyone with my “war stories.” My one regret is that I couldn’t grow a beard because what use is being a storyteller if you can’t thoughtfully stroke your beard while trying to remember what happens next?

As you can imagine, my new third-grade classmates had less than no interest in hearing about dirt and rainwater no matter how interesting I tried to make it sound. I even tried to recreate the same setup in the driveway of my new school, but that didn’t really work either. Luckily, I soon discovered Star Wars and proceeded to talk about nothing else for the next several years. It was a strategy that made me enough likeminded friends to survive the rest of elementary school.

Even today I tend to fall back on storytelling as something of a crutch. While some topics in Magic finance benefit from a dramatic narrative, many do not. Loads of topics are well worth bringing up and talking about for a sentence or two even if it doesn’t make sense to devote a full article or even a full paragraph to them. Most weeks I’ll either sweep these thoughts under the rug or try to shoehorn them into an article where they don’t belong.

Not today though. This week I’m going back to one of my favorite structural gimmicks: one hundred thoughts. Most of them are about Magic finance, but some are about the game at large or are simply just other things on my mind right now. For once I’m going to take off my storytelling hat and plumb the depths of my brain. Here’s hoping there’s something good in there!

1) Last week I asked my Twitter feed if they thought that the Grixis Commander deck was a snap buy at MSRP. Considering True-Name Nemesis by himself is sold out here at $40, I assumed that the consensus would be “yes.”

2) I was right. Everyone seems to be in agreement that this deck is going to hold its value above $30, including me. If you see this deck, buy it.

3) Mark Rosewater confirmed on his Tumblr page that the Commander decks will not be printed independently from each other. In other words, no distributor will sell a store five copies of just the Grixis deck—if you want more of those, you’re going to have to buy the full set of five. This will prevent many retailers from ordering enough Grixis decks to meet demand.

4) There are conflicting rumors that the second wave of Commander decks will be the last. I tend not to believe that, but even if there are three or four printings, the Grixis deck will likely remain valuable and in demand permanently.

5) It’s worth paying attention to which Commander deck the causal players flock to as the best overall experience irrespective of True-Name Nemesis. Remember that the Commander 2011 deck with Scavenging Ooze was not the most valuable sealed product—that honor went to Heavenly Inferno despite containing fewer Constructed playables.

6) True-Name Nemesis had a nice coming out party at Eternal Weekend. A deck running three of them made the finals of the Legacy Championship, losing to Ari Lax Death and Taxes. This card is actually a Legacy staple and should be treated as such.

7) The Vintage deck that took down the tournament also had a copy of the card. This isn’t all that relevant because only about ten people in the whole world play Vintage, but it speaks to the overall power level of the little guy. Any card that can win a vintage tournament is worth pausing and reflecting on.

8) I think there will be some new interest in Legacy Merfolk now that people have gotten their hands on copies of True-Name Nemesis. Two of the hardest cards to find used to be Mutavault and Aether Vial, and both of those have been reprinted recently, bringing down the price of the deck. I expect each of the Merfolk lords to see some medium-term gains as demand increases.

9) While it didn’t make the Top 8, there were twice as many copies of Toxic Deluge in that Legacy event than there were True-Name Nemesises. Over the long haul I suspect that Toxic Deluge may end up being the Commander 2013 card that has the greatest impact in Eternal.

10) Toxic Deluge is in the Esper deck, which is far easier to find in stores than the Grixis one.

11) All of these decks are available in large retail outlets if you’re willing to look for them. I checked a few of the stores near me last night and found three Grixis decks in one of them. A second store had Esper and Naya available. A third was still waiting for their first shipment and hadn’t put any on the shelves yet.

12) Don’t forget that not all big-box stores in a single region share the same distributor and that many of them operate on different cycles. If you don’t see any Commander decks out, ask a manager.

13) All of these decks are fine long-term holds, but I wouldn’t tie my money up that long. Only the Grixis deck is guaranteed to make you your money back over the short term if you buy it at MSRP. Otherwise buy these to play them.

14) Speaking of the Legacy Championship, it’s nice to see such a healthy and diverse format. Sure, all of the decks have a control or combo aspect, but in the end the deck that took down the event did it by playing tempo games and attacking with creatures. That’s pretty cool for a format with twenty years’ worth of legal cards.

15) Mirran Crusader is a three-of in that deck, and it’s still a $2 card. Most low-end Legacy rares sell for at least $5.

16) Phyrexian Revoker is also a four-of in that deck, and you can get it for just a buck fifty. This card is versatile and has even more upside than the Crusader. It may end up seeing more and more play in Legacy and Modern as planeswalkers keep getting printed.

17) Death and Taxes specs is all well and good, but don’t forget that Karakas is a real barrier for people building this deck. Having this card against Sneak and Show and Omni-Tell opponents is one of the reasons to play the deck at all, so it can’t be ignored. SCG sells Italian Legends ones for $80, and that’s the cheapest version available right now. This land could easily hit $150 at some point, rendering the whole Crusader/Revoker spec thing kind of moot. If you have Karakases, you probably have these too.

18) I’ve read two articles in the past month by critics I like and respect calling the Breaking Bad finale the end of TV’s golden age. I disagree. Broadcast TV’s golden age was back in the 1950s and 60s when there were only three channels and the formats we still enjoy today were invented. The past ten-to-twelve years might have been the golden age of cable TV though, and yeah, that might be over now.

19) I’m still hopeful about what’s next for TV though. The Internet has opened things up so much, and we’ll see many of the old studio/network models crumble over the next ten or twenty years. It will suck for a little while, but chances are the thing that emerges from the ashes of the old system will contain the best programming yet. You just wait.  

20) You know that awesome Time Warp deck I linked to last week? It’s still winning Magic Online Daily Events. I’m not saying it’s the next breakout deck, but Walk the Aeons is still selling for $1 and Temporal Mastery is just $4. Both cards have a good amount of upside if people decide to start playing this deck en masse.

21) Merfolk is back in Modern too! Master of Waves and Master of the Pearl Trident are making their way into Daily Events.

22) Master of the Pearl Trident is still just $2 retail. That’s not going to last. For the first time in a while, I’m glad I have several dozen of these from a busted spec.

23) Kira, the Great Glass Spinner is another card in that deck, and it was severely devalued thanks to Modern Masters. There’s some real upside here, and it could easily return to $15+ card.

24) The finance community is buzzing about Spellskite’s growth potential, pegging it as a solid $15 retail card for next Modern season thanks to its near ubiquity in the format. While I don’t like it as a spec target at $10—the current retail price—you can still pick these up in trade closer to $6-$7 thanks to price memory. I like it and agree with the others that the card has solid if unspectacular upside.

25) Grafdigger’s Cage immediately sold out on SCG following my article last week, but they’re still restocking it at $1. Go check and see if there are any left to buy.

26) Did any of you see that weird run on Zur the Enchanter a few weeks back? After years of being a Commander card, a deck with four copies of Zur won a Modern Daily. He jumped to $10m and I don’t see the price coming down anytime soon.

27) Also in that deck? Geist of Saint Traft. If you’re looking to dream on Esper Aggro in Modern, that’s your man.

28) I’m still all in on Underworld Cerberus by the way. Now that it’s down to $3, there’s even more of a chance for you to make money when it breaks out and jumps to $15 overnight. Of course, I thought Duskmantle Seer was vastly underrated, so I’ve been known to make mistakes from time to time. Seriously, though, how is this card not tearing up the format yet? Has no one read it?

29) I want to go back and grade my set review, but Magic prices are always in flux. A grade that looked great three weeks in might look terrible now and could look totally different in three months or a year and a half. Magic finance is a game of trying to constantly hit a moving target.

30) That last thought is mostly a result of me trying to wipe the egg off my face for some pretty lousy predictions. I was fairly accurate in evaluating the planeswalkers and Gods, but I missed badly on things like Hero’s Demise and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.

31) Speaking of Hero’s Demise, literally no one out there is willing to trade these. I don’t think it can maintain a value anywhere near $15-$20 over the long haul, but before it comes down in price, people have to be willing to actually get rid of their copies. It’s far easier to find people willing to trade any other card in the set other than Elspeth and Stormbreath Dragon.

32) It’s interesting to me that the “marquee” cards in the set have maintained their value while other mythics have fluctuated almost without regard to playability. Elspeth and Stormbreath have seen play for sure, but it’s hard to argue that they’re the two most influential mythics in the set. They’re still each worth $10 more than the next highest card though. They jumped in price before the set even came out and stayed there.

33) The Gods are going to be such good long-term buys in a year or so. Casual players still go nuts for these—especially Thassa and Purphoros, who are the frontrunner casual favorites.

34) Would you be shocked if Nylea ended up being the most expensive God in five years? Green is the perfect devotion color in Commander, and Nylea is the ideal card for those decks.

35) I also wouldn’t be shocked if Erebos became a huge thing in Modern.

36) I said Ashiok would be a bust from day one, and I stand by that assessment. It seems to be tanking right now, and I’m not surprised by that fact. The card will continue to see competitive play, but it only works in a few decks and is only good against a few decks. The current retail price of $20 is still too high.

37) Theros and Commander both gave me a ton of stuff to put in my Cube, but I’m holding out for now. I’d expect Theros set foils and Commander cards both to bottom out in a month or two.

38) When was the last time there was a set printed with less overall value than Dragon’s Maze? I expected these prices to become more robust this fall and was proven completely wrong. Other than Voice of Resurgence, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, and Ral Zarek, you’ve only got a tiny handful of $4 rares and a bunch of bulk. So much for my spring-set theory.

39) Blood Baron of Vizkopa keeps threatening to make a major move though. Keep an eye on him.

40) Ditto for Progenitor Mimic. Would anyone be shocked if this becomes the number-two card out of Dragon’s Maze within the year thanks to casual interest and fringe Standard and Modern play?

41) One last note on Dragon’s Maze: Voice of Resurgence is still the most valuable card in Standard by a lot. It’s $15 more than the next most expensive thing. That’s insane and will likely change soon, either with another card rising in value or Voice dropping off a bit.

42) So many people forget that Magic should be fun! A few weeks ago I played an awesome draft game where we decided to pass a Pyxis of Pandemonium from my sideboard back and forth each turn from the start of the game as if it were a Jinxed Choker. Towards the end of the game, I opened Pandora’s Box and unleashed a flurry of permanents. It was awesome.

43) Something I’ve seen close to zero speculation talk about: the Theros Game Day Face the Hydra deck. These decks were sent to stores just for this event, and it’s super unlikely Wizards will ever mass produce them. It’s far more likely that we’ll see more challenge decks in future years, with this being the unheralded first. I don’t see these for sale on SCG, but they are available elsewhere in the $10-$15 range. I bought three, and I’ll throw them in the closet for a couple of years. It’s an awesome no risk/high reward move.

44) Don’t forget the number-one rule of collecting: the things that end up being worth money are the things that aren’t produced and marketed as collectables. Don’t believe me? Go check the price of that Elves vs. Goblins deck.

45) I predicted that the shock lands would be $18-$20 by now. Whoops. Who could know that devotion and Nykthos would come along and encourage people to play monocolored decks?

46) I still think the shock lands are fine long-term holds—they’re excellent in Modern—and the price will eventually hit those levels. It’s okay to trade them away now though if you don’t want to wait.

47) Two-colored Gods are also coming in the next two sets—one for each guild—and that might help these lands as well.

48) The scry lands are much better than you thought, right? That’s why I’m surprised that the prices are still pretty close to what they were at when they were spoiled. I could see these cards easily hit $12-$15 retail, and it’s worth buying your sets now for sure if you play a lot of Standard.

49) Long term I don’t like the scry lands very much. They won’t see play in Modern, so think of them more like the Innistrad check lands than fetches or shocks.

50) On the other hand, I love Nykthos as a medium/long-term hold. This is an absurdly powerful card, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see it stabilize in the $15-$20 range at some point. It might even go higher. It is relevant in Modern, great in Commander, and is the sort of card that profiles well over the long run. Plus, people love building around it.

51) I still love sealed Modern Masters boxes as long-term holds. They’ve been stable in the $230-$250 range for months now, but that’s because there hasn’t been any real Modern demand and the cards in that set haven’t had time to rebound. I’m still confident that these will hit $500, and I still recommend picking them up.

52) If you’re anxious about these already, you need to redefine “long term” in your mind. We haven’t had a single Modern season since this set was released, remember?

53) There hasn’t been any movement in Modern Masters singles yet either. I expect there will be a weeklong “run” on these at some point over the next year where all the major retailers bump up their prices by 20-30% and everyone scrambles to catch up.

54) Good cards to pick up in the interim? All the Affinity staples, Dark Confidant, Kiki-Jiki, and all the uncommons.

55) Sealed Return to Ravnica boxes feel like an awesome spec to me as well. That set is filled with Eternal goodies, and it wasn’t a bad solo Draft format. I could see an easy $150 before long.

56) Innistrad boxes were one of the hottest specs out there a few months ago, but a ton of them hit the market and their momentum stalled entirely over the summer. At some point soon this trend will continue, and these will start lurching back towards $200-$250. We just need a few of the larger suppliers to sell out first.

57) The biggest challenge I’ve faced in my 20s so far? Self-discipline. I’m about four times better than I was when I graduated college and about four times less good than I need to be.

58) A lot of decks in Legacy are playing around with Swan Song. It hasn’t made an impact yet, but it will. Foils are still expensive, but there’s a lot of upside here. I wouldn’t mind owning a set or two. I still don’t expect anything from the non-foils.

59) Did anyone else notice that some of the random things from Commander 2011 doubled in price this month? Animar is an $8 card now. Lightning Greaves is back up to $5. This bodes well for the long-term trajectory of Commander 2013 staples as well as the Planechase stuff that hasn’t been reprinted yet.

60) Vintage Masters is going to be an awesome addition to Magic Online. This could lead to a resurgence of interest in the format. It’s possible that with the restricted list Magic Online Vintage could be as cheap or cheaper to play online than Legacy.

61) With only one copy of each Power Nine card needed, I expect Force of Will to still be the format’s major bottleneck. I sincerely hope that card also appears in Vintage Masters alongside power and dual lands.

62) Will people start playing paper Vintage more after getting hooked on it online? It’s certainly possible. You can make a reasonable case that the Power Nine and other Vintage staples are massively underpriced right now compared to almost every other card simply based on how truly scarce they are. If you ever wanted to own a set of these, try to get them soon.

63) Boros did pretty well in Standard last week! I’ve seen two good variations of the deck: one white-based with Ajani, Caller of the Pride and one a Big Red version that is close to mono-red with splashes for Chained to the Rocks and Boros Charm.

64) One of the consequences of these decks doing well? Both Ajani and Ash Zealot are making moves. I wouldn’t recommend going in on either, but make sure you monitor these prices going forward in case they leap.

65) Rakdos also did well last weekend, and Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch was right there in the middle of things. The finance community has been in on this card for months now, and it’s possible that this spec is finally going to pay off. If this deck keeps going, expect the card to settle in at $3-$4 with spikes to $6.

66) Xathrid Necromancer is another fantastic card in that Rakdos deck. It’s an outstanding creature just waiting for a home in a tier 1 deck. It may have just found one. It’s only $3 right now, and it has an upside of $10-$12.

67) Lost in the sea of red and black is the fact that Mono-Blue Devotion is still performing very well even though the deck is well known now and people can hate against it. It certainly wasn’t a Pro Tour paper tiger—it’s a real deck with quite a lot of staying power.

68) Despite this both Thassa, God of the Sea and Master of Waves have come down in price since their post-Pro Tour highs. I’m not saying these cards should still be selling at $25+, but they’re a tad undervalued now considering how well the deck has continued to perform. These are still tier 1 staples, so don’t panic-sell them.

69) A lot of people hate that Magic finance became “a thing” because it made trading much harder and forced players to care about value even if they’d rather not. This is undeniable. But when is the last time you saw a player get totally raked over the coals in a trade? This happens way less than it used to, right? That seems like a fine tradeoff to me.

70) On the other hand, trade paranoia is at an all-time high. Just because I write a column on the Internet doesn’t mean I’m going to try and get one over you, guys. My reputation and integrity are each worth far more than your binders. If you’re a reluctant trader, just get out the smart phones and look stuff up. I’m always really nice about this and actively encourage it with any tentative traders I meet.

71) I don’t think Jace, the Mind Sculptor is ever going to be much cheaper than it is right now. Sure, they reprinted it in a From the Vault set, but those tend to have little impact on the value of high-end cards and they’re probably not going to reprint it again for many years to come.

72) On the other hand, where is Jace going to see more play? He’s a Legacy staple, but he’s banned in Modern and that’s never going to change. People mostly want him because he’s iconic. That could be enough.

73) Mutavault is the most robust card in Standard right now. It’s a proven staple, it’s a land that goes in every deck, and it’s from a set that wasn’t drafted much. It’s done nothing but slowly and steadily grow for months now. While it can’t grow forever—it’s not a mythic after all—it’s the most stable card in the format by a lot.

74) I tried to trade a set of Master of Waves for a set of Mutavaults back when Master was $25+ and Mutavault was under $15. I got no takers.

75) Scavenging Ooze and Deathrite Shaman are two cards that might be undervalued right now despite being in Standard and not seeing much play. They’re both Modern staples that will likely jump in the spring when everyone realizes that there isn’t actually an infinite supply of them.

76) I love Arcade Fire. I love LCD Soundsystem. The new Arcade Fire album produced by the LCD Soundsystem front man is . . . not my favorite. I love what they were going for conceptually, but I felt like The Suburbs and Neon Bible both brought fresh perspectives to the philosophical concepts that the albums took on. Reflektor just brought bongo drums and called it a day. I really do love parts of the record, but the album in its entirety feels kind of like a bloated demo reel of cluttered ideas. It will undoubtedly be heralded as a “lost classic” at some point of course because that’s how these things go.

77) I didn’t like any album this year as much as I liked Metric’s Synthetica in 2012 or Bon Iver’s Bon Iver in 2011, but Franz Ferdinand, CHVRCHES, Daft Punk, Editors, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Haim, Small Black, Fitz and the Tantrums, and The Mowgli’s all brought their A games. It’s possible that my favorite album of the year just hasn’t quite hit me yet.

78) Standard PTQ season is super early this year—did you know that? It usually runs in spring/summer, but this time around it starts on December 7th.

79) This means that most Standard staples could start to peak much earlier—like later this month earlier—instead of the normal rise in February and March. If you’re planning on playing in PTQs, start getting your decks ready now.

80) This Standard environment is kind of awesome, isn’t it? There are four different kinds of Devotion decks, vicious aggro attacks, Esper and U/W Control, and a pretty sick ramp build. We’re several months in and it still feels like the format is growing and evolving weekly.

81) What does this mean for you? If you’re a casual Standard player, you can pretty much pick a color or strategy and rock it every week without having to continually “chase” the best deck. In formats dominated by one boogeyman, playing something tier 1.5 or tier 2 feels awful. In wide-open formats, rocking what you want to play is perfectly acceptable.

82) If you’re a grinder, make sure you have access to all the staples now. As the format cycles it’s more important than ever to always stay ahead of the curve and make sure you have the ability to play whatever is the best deck on any given weekend.

83) Could Devotion become a thing in Modern as well? Nykthos is certainly powerful enough to make the transition seamlessly. I certainly expect the casual crowd at the very least to be interested in trying to make Phyrexian Obliterator work. Geralf’s Messenger is another card that could see play in that kind of deck alongside Bloodghast and Liliana of the Veil. Wait, this is starting to sound like a real deck!

84) What about Mono-Green Devotion in Modern? Boggart Ram-Gang, Khalni Hydra, Leatherback Baloth, Cloudthresher, Wilt-Leaf Liege, and Strangleroot Geist are all interesting. There’s no true “reward card” in green like Thassa, Gray Merchant, or Fanatic of Mogis, but Nykthos alone is a good reason to consider a deck like this.

85) What about Demigod of Revenge for either Black or Red Devotion in Modern? The card has an outstanding tournament track record and is backbreaking with Nykthos, Gray Merchant, or Fanatic of Mogis.

86) Speaking of Modern, what about Splinter Twin as a nice spec target? I’m shocked that an engine card in such a good deck is only selling for $5. It should be in the $8-$10 range, right? It’s not like Rise of the Eldrazi has any shortage of pricey cards.

87) Birthing Pod is another one. I’ve had a stack of these put aside for a year now. How is this card still just $6? I don’t think $15 retail this summer is too much of a stretch.

88) Another card that might be the victim of a boom/bust cycle: Chandra, Pyromaster. After a major surge, she’s fallen off quite a bit recently. If she starts seeing a lot of Standard play again, she’ll be right back up to around $40-$50. Remember that it doesn’t take much for once-printed core-set mythics to gain a lot of value fast.

89) Regular clams are funnier than oysters. Lobsters are funnier than regular clams. Crabs are funnier than lobsters. Giant clams are funnier than crabs. I think crawdads are funnier than giant clams, but it’s really close.

90) One hundred thoughts is an awful lot of thoughts. Perhaps too many. See previous thought re: shellfish and mollusks.

91) I still think there are some bargains on the Legacy banned list. Mind Twist and Black Vise might never see actual play, but there will still be a major rush and price bump once Wizards gets around to unbanning them. Worth the risk for someone I suspect.

92) Earthcraft is another card I suspect we’ll see come off the list someday. It’s already quite pricey, but it will go even higher.

93) Incidentally, it’s not worth discussing the various merits of the reserved list. I know people like dragging this topic back up every few months—I’m guilty of it myself right now I suppose—but I promise you that Wizards isn’t going to be getting rid of it anytime soon. They had weeks of meetings on this a few years back and ultimately decided that it wasn’t going to happen. If they were going to do it, that would have been the time.

94) That said, a few lawyers who follow me on Twitter dumped water on the notion that there could be a successful lawsuit against WotC for breaking their promise. I had always figured that this was the reason they were never going to abolish the list. So maybe there is a chance? I still don’t think it’ll ever happen.

95) What have you created today? What have you given to the world today? Think about that, go do something, and get back to me in the comments. Life is too short to be nothing more than a consumer of other people’s content.

96) When you’re speculating or buying collections, try not to go out of your comfort zone unless the price is right. If you don’t play Commander and haven’t had any success speculating on Commander cards in the past, don’t buy a huge Commander collection and assume you know the margins.

97) On the other hand, there are some deals that only happen once in a blue moon—massively underpriced collections, a chance to buy power, etc. Don’t hesitate or pass these up when they arrive. Make the move you feel is right and deal with the fallout later. If you can, talk to a knowledgeable friend first.

 98) Don’t ever forget that Magic prices in recent years have continued to rise because the player base keeps growing by a third each year. This trend will not last forever. This trend cannot last forever. A time will come when this growth slows, a set will be massively overprinted, and market confidence will tank.

99) Have a plan for when that day comes. Make it now.

100) Above all else, hold people and relationships above cards and profits. Do this and you will not lose. I promise.

Until next week –

– Chas Andres