Removed From Game — The Cost Of Lorwyn, Part 1

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Over the next two weeks, Rich Hagon takes a long hard look at the shape of the Magic year ahead. This week, bold predictions abound, including all the formats and locations for PTQs and PTs alike, plucked God-like from the air, and an insight into the new world of four-expansion Magic. Plus the best accountancy joke in the world

I’d like to start proceedings this week with a footnote, which isn’t bad as headers go. I was staggered/horrified/sad (choose the one that most closely identifies with your own perception) at the avalanche of nastiness that surrounded the Storyteller Ballot for the Invitational. Whilst the Ballot disintegrated into a “Pro versus Joe” battle, the irony was surely not lost on regular viewers of articles here.

On the one hand: Death to Mudbloods. Somebody Casual playing in the Invitational is a disgrace.
On the other: Why?

The trouble with both these arguments was who was making them. The suggestion that a Casual player would have next to no chance of winning, not just the Invitational, but a round, seemed to be a given amongst the “we’ve paid our dues” Pro brigade. Comparisons with more physical sports i.e. Basketball are clearly misleading. Evan, Kyle, Rizzo, Cedric and Co. may or may not be decent basketball players, but whilst it’s true to say that if they were put in the basketball All-Star Game they would be massacred, the same is clearly not true of Magic. Craig Jones is a vastly better Magic player than I am, but it doesn’t alter the fact that in competitive sanctioned play I generally beat him.

“I’ve won a Pro Tour, $27,000,000, destroyed my entire life by not eating or sleeping for 38 years because I was being flown around the world at somebody else’s expense to meet my friends, get drunk and play cards with them” isn’t, bizarrely, a direct quote, but neatly sums up one Pro’s argument for why he, and others like him, have a right to that 16th slot on the ballot. At first, when I read the post by a Pro comparing that lifestyle with the pitiable state of Magic journalism, where I and every other good-for-nothing on the site apparently tumble out of bed, write 6,000 or so words in approximately 18 seconds, and then go back to our Real Life, I assumed it was Osyp Lebedowicz or somebody having a laugh, pretending to be someone else for comic effect, but no. Either there was some serious Post-Modern Irony going on, at a level too far advanced for my humble writer’s brain to comprehend, or the poster left school shortly before the whole “grammar, syntax, argument, and structure” bit of the curriculum kicked in. If ever there was a case for a Casual selection, the wall-eyed arrogance on display made it.

Unfortunately, on the other hand, Casual players must have been giving some Pros heart failure with comments along the lines of, “C’mon, who wouldn’t want to see Evan play his Relentless Rats deck in Extended?” and “Boy oh boy — Scryb Ranger plus Might Of Old Krosa plus Might Of Old Krosa plus Fatal Frenzy, that’s eighteen damage. I can’t wait to see that at the Invitational.” Quite. Of course, as those of you who haven’t been on Mars for the past week should know, Evan Erwin made it in as (delete as applicable) Sacrificial Lamb / The Casual Messiah / Both, or simply as the star of his own forthcoming guerrilla film, “The Texas Gameshow Massacre.” I’m neither brave enough nor stupid enough to predict how many wins Evan will get, and I suspect he isn’t either. However he does come October, let’s hope at the very least that he has the time of his life, since a rubbish week for him probably pleases nobody.

So, as I say, my faith in the essential goodness and fundamental intelligence of the Magic community was somewhat shaken by all this. And, in truth, I started wondering. Does everybody think that BDM, Flores, Sullivan, Rizzo and more are basically worthless parasites, desperately clinging onto the coattails of the Pros, trying to eke out a pitiful existence on the fringes of a game that they can’t really play themselves? Surely not. So I was thoroughly reassured by a telephone conversation I had earlier this week with – God help us all – a certified Magic judge, that made me realise that the power of the written and spoken word is very much alive, thanks very much. For reference, here’s the opening to last week’s article:

As I closed in on the end of last week’s Alpha strike, I wondered what could possibly prevent me from bringing you the true cost of Lorwyn, a highly-detailed economic forecast that will enable you to judge whether you need to sell your wife, house, car, or all three to continue playing Magic during the coming twelve months.

Possible reasons for this Lorwyn-fest getting derailed were, as far as I could see:

My mother dying.
Embarking upon a hot and sweaty affair with Kylie Minogue.
Embarking upon a hot and sweaty affair with my wife.

That was pretty much it. Now the way I saw things last weekend, at least two of these three were kind of unlikely. Besides, the article was already nearly finished, and I felt sure I could work around funeral arrangements and my wife’s work to get the job done. As for Kylie, that was a risk I was prepared to take.

Here’s the conversation:

S: Hi Rich, it’s Simon.
R: Hello. How are you?
S: I’m alright, thanks. Listen, I’m just ringing to say sorry.
R: Sorry?
S: About your Mum.
R: What about my Mum?
S: That she’s died.
R: Simon, what are you talking about?
S: You said in your article that your Mum had died. Me and Sarah were really upset. We liked your Mum.
R: Simon, my Mum’s fine.
S: Really? That’s good.
R: Isn’t it, though? How did you arrive at this conclusion exactly?
S: Well, I was reading your article, and you said there were three things that would stop you writing about Lorwyn. You can’t have an affair with your wife, you’re already married to her. Being realistic, you’re probably not going to bed with Kylie anytime soon, so the only one left was your Mum dying. And then you didn’t talk about Lorwyn, so we knew it had to be that.
R: Okay, a couple of things. First up, if my Mum had died during the week, the chances are that I actually wouldn’t have written my article that week. A more pressing dead-line, you might say. And second, don’t you think I might have, you know, ‘phoned you to tell you at some point, rather than making a public announcement in my column?
S: We were a bit puzzled by that, but we thought that perhaps you weren’t dealing with the grief very well and that therefore you were exhibiting some fairly bizarre behavior.
R: Okey dokey.

Wow. The power of words. Incidentally Simon, if you’re reading, she’s still not dead. You get 10 out of 10 for compassion, 10 out of 10 for friendship, but 0 out of 10 on the logic floor rules. Let’s see, 20 out of 30, that’s 66%. Not quite the 70% you needed for Level 1. Come back in three months.

In the remainder of this article, I will attempt to insert no more than zero red herrings, which given the dryness of the topic shouldn’t be too problematic. Yes, it’s the long-awaited, eagerly-anticipated guide to the Cost Of Lorwyn. The announcement of the re-structuring of the Magic year for 2007-2008 was, I felt, met with a fairly muted and measured response by the community. For those of you who don’t yet know, or have forgotten in your Summer heatwave, the Lorwyn year will run thus:

October 2007: Lorwyn
Early 2008: Morningtide
April-ish 2008: “Jelly” (not the real name)
July-ish 2008: “Doughnut” (actually the real name — I know I promised no red herrings, but seriously…)

Lorwyn and Morningtide are joined at the hip, very much as Time Spiral and Planar Chaos were. Booster drafts will run in exactly the same way as you would expect come January. That’s to say two Lorwyn boosters followed up with one from Morningtide. So far so normal. It’s in April that the Magic year diverges from its regular path with the arrival of Jelly. Replacing the Future Sight “slot,” Jelly will be a second large set. In order for this to be accommodated, we say goodbye right there to Lorwyn and Morningtide. Sealed events will be starter packs of Jelly, and then when Doughnut rolls around — see what I did there? — Booster Draft will behave like TSP/PC again, two Jellies and a Doughnut (oh boy, the gags just keep on coming.)

What will all this mean to you, the consumer? If, as widely believed, the goal of this whole thing is to make more money for Wizards, where will that money be made? Are you about to be priced out of the game? (I don’t want to spoil things for you, but I rather doubt it.) Where will the pressures on chase rares and tournament staples come in this new system? Is the Casual gamer the real winner here, or will Block Constructed be ruined? Let’s take a closer look.

Oh, and just before we start the number-crunching, a word of caution. The analysis presented below is based on a huge number of variables that have to be “plugged in” to the system to see how it might work. I’m dealing in generalities, not specifics, so if anyone chooses to spend their time posting in the forums that Lorwyn actually has 102 rares rather than the “roughly 100” I’m going to talk about, I congratulate them warmly and suggest a career as an accountant (and for the best ever Accountancy joke in the world, see below.)


The most important day of the Magic year is Day 1, and it’s the Saturday of the pre-release of The Big Expansion. That means Lorwyn. We already know that Lorwyn has 306 cards. In the first of 57 inferences, that implies roughly 100 rares. Every year the hype machine goes into action, and in two of the last three years the reaction has been favorable once the cards actually get into sweaty hands. We were promised golden excitement by the bucketload in Ravnica, and having been in a roomful of 300 people at the Time Spiral London Pre-Release, I can certainly testify to the success of the whole Timeshifted thing. Only Kamigawa in recent times has failed to hit the spot, which possibly you could have guessed when the previews were all about the country the game was set in, not the game itself. For Lorwyn, we’re starting to get some fairly strong hints that there are plenty of familiar faces, sorry, Races in the new set. Elves have so far taken centre stage, and we know that there is a more traditional feel to the coming year. After a set like Future Sight, with a bajillion (it’s an economic term, don’t fret) mechanics, the clean flowing lines of design are hopefully going to seem like fresh cold water after a hangover. In a way, none of this matters, because on the 30th of September we’ll all be mostly turning up to get our hands on the latest big thing in Magic, or complaining bitterly to our wives, girlfriends, or mothers that we can’t go.

To me, the first interesting litmus test of Lorwyn comes on Day 2 of the Magic year, when we see how many players come back for another crack at a Pre-Release event. Weighed against the excitement of new cards are assorted negatives — more travel, the sense of arriving after the parade, having already been battered on day 1, having opened rubbish rares on day 1, the possibility of (ahem) higher power levels to certain decks on day 2. If people come back to the Sunday event, you have a winner. And then we settle down to digging into the set, seeing what’s really lying behind the hype, how many good cards there actually are, and so on.

The next big day in the Magic year comes when November Standard rears its lovely head. While Lorwyn is still largely an unknown quantity, we do have one crucial piece of information at our disposal. Ravnica leaves Standard in November. Most importantly, that means goodbye to all those stunningly beautiful dual lands, courtesy of Rob Alexander. In Magic terms, leading deckbuilders will tell you this is a seismic shift in the metagame. What do you have without Ravnica? You have Time Spiral Block Constructed. Of course there is also Coldsnap and 10th to consider, but for our purposes looking at Block will be more illuminating.

Block Constructed this season has been one of the best of all time, with a vast range of decks viable, plenty of card choice i.e. not everyone having to own four copies of the only eight rares that matter etc, and a metagame that shifts at dizzying speed, meaning that from week to week if you know your deck and know how to play it you are unlikely to be hated into oblivion. The last time Block was this much fun, we were fiddling about with Apocalypse duals. Although Time Spiral was a very large set, meaning that Block has 800-odd cards available, adding another 300 will inevitably have a heavy impact. Part of my reasoning behind ignoring Coldsnap and 10th is that there are very few cards that are demonstrably powerful at the Standard level. Assorted post-10th Nationals showed minimal impact from the new core set outside familiar powerhouses like Troll Ascetic, Treetop Village, Incinerate, and Mogg Fanatic etc. Therefore it’s a good bet that Lorwyn will give Standard a proper shakedown. If you’re a Standard player in a weekly local event, this probably means there will be quite a few rares you’ll be wanting in multiples. Given that 10th has all the Apocalypse duals in it, plus the Ice Age painlands, you’re unlikely to have to make another massive investment in multi mana-producing rare lands. At least, I hope not. So instead it will be the usual collection of uncounterable spells, the big finishers, the combo pieces and something with the word “mox” in.


Into the new calendar year we go, and Morningtide greets us. Best guess for set size? 180. If it’s much bigger than this, it’s likely to feel like another Big set, and Lorwyn is pretty slim as large expansions go historically. If it’s much less than this, the two-set Block Constructed format is going to seem a pretty confined space from which to design and play. Given that much fanfare has been made of the fact that LorMor is indeed a complete block all by itself, it stands to reason that Wizards will want plenty of options to be at our disposal, especially in the rare slots. Dual lands apart, Apocalypse was a prime example of an end-of-the-Block set that positively drenched us in playable, or even essential, rares. If you were prepared to run just 20 land, it was possible to build a thoroughly competitive Invasion Block deck made from precisely 60 Rares. Scary. I think we can expect something along these lines once Morningtide appears, although perhaps not to that extreme extent. With at least 100 cards coming off the Block compared to the same time this year (TSP/PC = 300 + 121 Timeshifted + 165 PC) there are simply going to be fewer high-quality cards for the Block environment.

At this point, we don’t know the exact make-up of the Pro Tour Qualifier seasons, or the events that they will serve, but it is possible to make some fairly accurate predictions.

PTQ season 1 — Autumn 2007. Lorwyn Sealed plus Booster Draft Top 8, servicing PT1 of 2008 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Format Lorwyn/Morningtide Booster Draft.

This much is all confirmed, and very much as we would expect. The PT showcases the LorMor Block for Limited, and everyone gets to play with Starter packs during the PTQ season.

PTQ season 2 — January to March 2008. Lorwyn/Morningtide Block Constructed servicing PT2 of 2008, probably in North America. Format either Lor/Mor Block Constructed or possibly Standard. My money’s on Standard.

I think the PTQ season here is pretty much a given, since it’s hard to imagine designing an entire Block for just a single event of high-level play, which is what would happen if PT2 was LorMor Block and the preceding PTQ season wasn’t. Given the likely format of PT4 (Lor/Mor/Jelly/Doughnut Block Constructed) it’s possible that Wizards would skip this narrow cardpool for the Pros and keep their powder dry until the autumn. Since the blazing success of Honolulu, Standard has definitely been on the PT agenda, and Spring 2008 seems like a possible window of opportunity.

PTQ season 3 — May to June 2008. Jelly Sealed Two-Headed Giant plus Booster Draft Top 4, servicing PT3 of 2008, almost certainly in Europe, quite possibly in Germany. Format Two-Headed Giant Jelly/Doughnut Draft.

Most players loved it, most Pros loathed it. There are more players than Pros, therefore 2HG will be back. Quod erat demonstrandum, as they say at the Audi film club. Possibly. All the mood music coming out of Wizards towers is that 2HG may be tweaked, cleaned, sparkled, given elocution lessons and told to get its act together, but will be here again in 2008. The 2HG spin on things makes the Jelly Sealed PTQ format fresh and interesting, and if Wizards push back the timing of the third PT of 2008, the Pros could be faced with a very short window to break the format as Doughnut joins Jelly just in time for the PT itself. If I’m right about this, there will clearly be distress on the face of Rich Hoaen and others who regard Limited as their metier, and don’t necessarily view 2HG as a worthy format (at least not under current structures — or should that be strictures?). Europe is probably only due one PT next year, so separating the two North American events seems likely.

PTQ season 4 — July to August 2008. Extended, servicing PT4 of 2008, probably in North America, possibly Toronto. Format LorMorJelDou Block Constructed.

If the second PT turns out to Standard, this one being full Block is a certainty. If Wizards take the brave decision of letting the Pros off the leash with a small LorMor Block for PT2, this could be the last huzzah for Time Spiral in Standard before it rotates out. Either way, with Extended being at Valencia, and not at Worlds, it’s probably time for some old-school PTQing again.

So what does this mean as far as Morningtide is concerned? If, as I suspect, it’s going to be part of PTQ season 2, then the pressure on chase cards, especially uncommons, is going to be extreme. Morningtide will come out only a few weeks before the PTQs start in earnest. During that time, apart from a possible Mor/Mor/Mor draft on Pre-Release day (you can hear the punters shouting, “We want Mor, we want Mor” already [With a rebel yell… – Craig.]) you’re basically looking at Lor/Lor/Mor Draft as your only way of getting cards by actually, you know, playing cards. Outside that, you’re into the realms of feverishly cracking boxes or sidling up to your local or internet-friendly trader and ordering a bunch of cards en masse. Or possibly even en Block. Yeah, sorry about that one.

Why do I highlight uncommons? That’s where traders make their real money. Chatting with a prominent trader at one of the European Grand Prix this year, he was talking about looking back at his 13 years in the business of Magic card middleman. All his best-performing stocks, if you will, were uncommons. Think Treetop Village and Faerie Conclave. Think Remand. Think Force Of Will. Think Tidings. If you look through your collections from years gone by, you will I think start to spot a pattern of key uncommons that you unexpectedly don’t have four of. 37 copies of this common, 29 of that one, 9 of this uncommon, 7 of that one, just two of the one you’re looking for. This is either because they’re so good that you’re never getting them passed in a draft, or they’re so Constructed specific that you never get around to taking them. Either way, uncommons is where the money is, and in Morningtide you can expect to find several of the 60 or so uncommons going at mid-range rare prices. As the year goes on and more packs are opened, by definition the market starts to adjust to the increased productivity, and even highlight cards eventually start to stabilise.

This year that may well not be true.

Players are likely to have minimal time to gradually acquire the Morningtide cards for their LorMor Block PTQs. More importantly, as I write this, Planar Chaos is very much part of the fabric of Limited Magic. It is, after all, 1/3rd of all TSP Block Drafts. That’s April, May, June, July, August, and September for you to turn up at your local store and rip a Damnation. While I accept that interest in the format generally wanes as attention turns towards the big launch in October, that’s still a lot of weeks where the game on the menu is TSP/PC/FS. From the moment Morningtide hits stores, the clock will be ticking towards April, when it will disappear from whence it came, never to be seen again, at least not in a way that gives you good bang for your buck. As I’ll explain next week, there are some ways to at least partially ease this problem, but there is no escaping the fact that there are going to be far fewer copies of [insert powerful Morningtide CARDNAME here] running around come next May and June. When you’re on the wrong end of the whole supply and demand dynamic, you got problems.


Now things start to get properly strange. There’s a very good reason that the Magic year doesn’t coincide with the calendar year, and that reason is called Christmas. January is when we’re all maxed out on our credit cards, planning for the future, spending vast sums on our forthcoming Summer holiday and generally tightening the purse strings. The likelihood of the two years becoming synchronised is small. This problem doesn’t apply to April. We’re well into the calendar year, Christmas excesses are far behind us, the bank account looks a bit healthier, and buying some Planar Chaos or Betrayers of Kamigawa seems a fair investment. But that April set has always been preaching to the converted, seeing as it completes the Block. Many of the mechanics have been known for six months, and most of the excitement surrounding the release involves either the evolving full Block Constructed metagame, or the final piece of the three-expansion Draft puzzle. After all, let’s be honest, two boosters of Big Set plus one of Set 2 has always been, well, lopsided. The third set puts this to rights.

Not this time. This time the April set, Jelly, will have to stand alone and fight its corner. And it’s got a big corner to fight. Typically, with Future Sight as an example, there will be 60 or so rares. Buy two booster boxes, and there’s a good bet you can swap and trade around to get one of each. Then you buy the three remaining copies of the two or three rares you really want for your assorted decks, and then quietly accumulate through the Summer. With Jelly, as early as February we’ll be hearing the rallying cry to come and look at all the wonders of another 100-odd rare set, in a new flavorsome location and with new characters to loathe, love, or mostly ignore. Assuming a size for Jelly of 300 and for Doughnut of 165 or so, we’re looking at a four-Expansion Block Constructed pool of roughly 950 cards. In that context, the 100 rares from Jelly are absolutely guaranteed to be a key part of that format. It will be interesting to see how far people are willing to go in terms of a Big Set investment. On the plus side, with the PTQ season likely to be 2HG Limited, players are likely to pick up a fair selection of cards from Jelly just through tournament play.


Finally, we get to the key ingredient of the big announcement — the arrival of Doughnut in Summer 2008. If we consider the last five years of Summer Sets, it’s not hard to see why an integrated Block-ender like Doughnut makes so much sense.

2003: 8th Edition
2004: Unhinged
2005: 9th Edition
2006: Coldsnap
2007: 10th Edition
2008: Doughnut

You all I trust know the drill regarding the rotating Core sets. Every two years a few tournament staples leave, a few more old favorites come back, including a few iconic cards that were super-exciting Then and super-rubbish Now (think Erhnam Djinn and Serra Angel), we all rotate our collections so that the Standard-legal drawer is at eye-level, and Magic pretty much carries on its own sweet way. For newer players, each new Core Set means upgrading your Gruul deck with four Troll Ascetics or Hammer Of Bogardan or getting hold of the Adarkar Wastes you couldn’t afford last time round, but for many seasoned players the Core sets make very little difference, especially in terms of investment in the game. As an example, my total investment so far in 10th has been approximately $45, comprising a Release event (which was more than enough to tell me that 10th Sealed is stratospherically far and away the worst Sealed format since I started playing in Tempest) and a lone Booster Draft. This is unlikely to result in Wizards employees driving Ferraris any time soon.

Then you get Unhinged, a set so far beyond the notional definition of Casual that it isn’t even funny. Although Unhinged was quite funny, if you follow. What it wasn’t, and nobody pretended it was going to be, was a quality skill-testing format that the Magic world as a whole would embrace. A niche product for a niche market. Still no Ferraris. Coldsnap, of course, was a very strange beast, which perversely I quite enjoyed, making me, as far as I can tell, unique. Wizards made no bones of the fact that Coldsnap was last year’s Big Mistake, and owners of the Seattle-based Humble Pie factory must have been very gratified by the boom in business. What Coldsnap did bring us was the idea that the Summer Set would have a thorough impact on the game, and once we got to Worlds we began to see just how much Constructed possibilities Coldsnap had sneaked into game stores while most of us weren’t looking. You want to talk about power uncommons? Cryoclasm was off the charts in Paris, selling out before most traders were officially even open. Nonetheless, there were few gamers of my acquaintance setting aside money as 2006 started, ready for some serious booster buying over the summer.

In many ways, Doughnut is the logical conclusion in the Wizards quest for an integrated finale to the Magic year, and crucially it’s a set that you “have to buy.” In terms of Standard, Doughnut’s 50-60 rares may not make a startling impact, but you have to remember that it services not one but two Block Constructed formats. Jelly/Doughnut is a discrete Block all to itself, plus Doughnut completes the 4-set cycle begun with Lorwyn. It is possible that Jelly/Doughnut will be all-but ignored in terms of Organised Play, with the four-set Block resembling a slightly-more-powerful version of this year’s card-heavy TSP/PC/FS shenanigans. If this turns out to be the case, it does make the whole “two sets of two” spin seem a little hollow and indeed disappointing. At that point, flavor text and some nifty artwork notwithstanding, Doughnut simply becomes Coldsnap Mark II, with a specious flavor reason justifying its existence. Oh, and as an added bonus, we’ll even let you play Doughnut cards with Lorwyn and Morningtide as well as Jelly. How cool is that? Not very. The positive view is that if you believe Mark Rosewater — something not always healthy, but he obfuscates for the best of reasons — these four sets have been comprehensively designed and developed with this two-plus-two goal in mind. Also, as we speak Doughnut is close to completion. It isn’t just in Maro’s brain, it really exists, all the artwork is pretty much done, templating is in place — this won’t be a set ‘tacked on’ at the end of an already-finished trio of expansions. So there’s hope.

And then we’re on to the Next Big Thing in the cycle that never stops. In some ways, this article has looked at things from the Wizards viewpoint. By this, I mean that I’ve tried to examine the thinking that has gone into this year’s planning, incorporating the different needs of R&D, Organised Play in general, the Pro Tour itself, Brand, Marketing, and the ultimate Bottom Line. Next time, I’ll turn things around and show you how to get the best value out of your next year of Magic. I’ll also identify the real winners and losers from the changeover, so whether you’re a kitchen table champion, a trader, a hoarder, a Limited once-a-month expert, a Pro Tour wannabe, or a Level 6 mage, there’ll be something for you.

Until then, when we’ll be just five weeks away from finding out who that really irritating little running-away Elf guy is off the 10th promo ad, take care.

And finally:

An accountant is walking through Central Park when he is accosted by a tramp. The tramp says, “do you know, I haven’t had a bath in three weeks. I haven’t changed my clothes in six weeks. I haven’t eaten anything in five days and I haven’t drunk anything in three days. I’ve got holes in my shoes, my trousers and my underwear. I’ve got headlice, pneumonia and a black eye.” And the accountant thinks about this for a moment and then asks, “And how does this compare with the same period last year?”

As ever, thanks for reading,