The Audit

This week Chas looks back on all three of his Return to Ravnica block set reviews and sees where he went right and where he screwed up so he can learn from his mistakes.

I hurt my back last weekend.

I wish I could say that I hurt it doing something cool, like juggling bears or defending the honor of my fiancee against a band of marauding Vikings. The truth is far more mundane. I was cleaning my house when I felt my lower back muscles start to bark. Ignoring the issue, I drove to Target, and when I reached down to get a packet of D batteries of the bottom shelf, my entire world became pain. For the next three days, I was stuck on my back in my bed watching TV and reflecting on my own stupidity.

I’ve never had back problems before, so I didn’t know that I should have taken it easy at those first signs of pain. If I had done a few stretches, taken a warm shower, and played Magic for the rest of the night, I would have probably been fine. Next time I know what do to.

How is Magic finance like a back injury? As I explained in my failure box article, it is essential to hold yourself accountable for bad decisions and attempt to figure out where you went wrong. That’s the only way you’re going to get better. Otherwise, you’re going to keep injuring yourself—or your wallet.

This week I’m going to look back on all three of my Return to Ravnica block set reviews and see where I went right and where I screwed up. Hopefully, I can learn something about why I said what I did and what I can do to improve my speculation skills. I’ve audited my set reviews in the past, but I’ve avoided this article because my Return to Ravnica predictions were so poor. Well, it’s time to show you just how badly I messed up.

Feel free to follow along and laugh at me, but try and remember what you believed about the set on the weekend of the Prerelease. Did you make the same mistakes I did? Did you make different ones? Do you regret spending a bunch of money on preordered cards that are now close to worthless, or are you kicking yourself for not going in on that can’t miss spec that actually panned out? As we approach the release of Theros, it’s important to keep our own weaknesses and biases in mind.

Also, remember that the verdict is still out on these sets. There’s still another full year of Standard playability for all Ravnica block rares, and the prices might fluctuate wildly between now and then. Remember, Liliana of the Veil was $16 last summer, so you would have laughed at me for telling you to preorder a playset of her at $35 each. One year later and that decision looks a little different, no?

Return to Ravnica: Hits

Even though I missed badly on many of the cards in this set, the premise of my set review was sound. The crux of what I urged you to do is captured in the following paragraph:

The overall price of Return to Ravnica singles is going to decline by around 50% over the next six months. I don’t need a time machine to tell you this, just a reasonable knowledge of economics.

This was an easy prediction for me to make, but I was still surprised at how many people disagreed with me at the time. Ultimately, I was proven correct—Return to Ravnica as a whole dropped more than 50% over the next six months.

I told everyone that they should sell their Return to Ravnica singles as quickly as possible because they would experience an across the board drop. Even if one or two went up, I argued, there was no way they would keep the $5-per-pack average that they held during the preorder period. If you followed this advice judiciously, you probably did fine on Return to Ravnica.

That advice didn’t go against conventional wisdom, of course, but this next paragraph did:

The shocklands have already proven their worth multiple times in multiple formats. I suspect they will settle in the $8-$12 range, but you could do worse than picking them up now if you feel that you must. They will never go lower than $8, so the risk of you losing out entirely is close to zero.

At the time, it seemed like there was a chance that shocklands weren’t going to ever drop below $10. Overgrown Tomb was $20 and Steam Vents was $15. In his financial review of Return to Ravnica, Ben Bleiweiss—a financial writer I really like and really respect—recommended buying in on those cards at those prices. There was a lot of skepticism that any of the shocks would ever drop to $8 again, much less sit there for months at a time. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and I’m giving myself credit for nailing what the market was going to be on these.

The last thing I’m giving myself some credit on for Return to Ravnica is Angel of Serenity. I snagged a set at $5 each and told everyone on my Twitter feed and in my column to buy in at the $8 retail it sat at for a couple of days. It was my only "buy" recommendation in the entire set, and if you had done so you would have had multiple chances to sell/trade out of the card at $20 retail. I consider that a clear win.

Return to Ravnica: Misses

I think I can sum everything up with these two lists, both of which were published in my set review:

Bets I Like

Bets I Dislike

Okay, let’s go through these lists one at a time and take a look at what I was thinking when I made so many bad calls. This is what I wrote about the Bets I Like list:

I’ve already spoken a lot about Angel of Serenity, so I don’t have much more to say. She’s the only card I preordered, at $8, and I’m very happy with that decision.

Okay, no problems here, though I should have talked more about whether she was still a decent bet at $15 as opposed to patting myself on the back for a call that was already several weeks past being useful. As long as you sold at the right time, though, you probably did okay here.

Trostani does a lot for a four-drop, though she’s held back a lot by her casting cost. Even still, I think she’s one of the better mythics.

True, and she’s actually held most of her value. Being "one of the better mythics" doesn’t mean a lot though—to maintain a $10 value, you either have to be an insane casual card or see play in a good deck or two.

Niv-Mizzet’s color requirements are very steep, but it’s basically game over when you untap with him. My instincts tell me he is a little overrated at $10, but several players and analysts I’ve talked to have told me that he is one of the most powerful cards in the set and will likely see Constructed play. Regardless, he’ll be massively popular with the casual crowd, much like the older Niv-Mizzet. You could make a worse gamble.

With Niv-Mizzet, I went against my instincts after talking to a few of my friends in the finance world. I should have stuck to my guns here—it turned out to be one of my biggest misses of the year.

Chromatic Lantern is one of the best casual cards in the set and will remain so for years. Pick up foils when you can.

Casual cards almost never hold their value from the preorder period—only something like a mythic Angel has a chance. The print run on modern sets is so high that these cards almost always drop from preorder even if they end up being stars in the long run. I take this into account when I write my set reviews now, but at the time I hadn’t yet gotten the memo. The foils are now twice as cheap as they were at release.

Lotleth Troll will likely be the heart of any aggressive/midrange/tempo Golgari deck. He’s outstanding on the curve and amazingly efficient. I expect he’ll be a four-of in one of the tier 1 decks right out of the game.

Yeah, this didn’t happen. I overrated the ability and got suckered into the hype. Another big miss, but probably an unavoidable one. At the time, it really seemed like this card was the real deal, and I’m still not quite sure what went wrong. Sometimes the metagame just doesn’t develop the way you think it will.

Supreme Verdict is a nifty sweeper that should stay in the $3-$6 range simply because it’s the best "block wrath" in a while and Day of Judgment likely won’t be back this season.

This was a fine prediction, and if you preordered these cards you’re probably happy right now. They might even still be a buy honestly.  

Loxodon Smiter isn’t quite what Selesnya wants to be doing, but it’s very powerful and has a chance of impacting Eternal formats as well.

Smiter still sells for $4, so buying at $5 wasn’t terrible. Even still, the sentence I wrote about the card showcases my mixed feelings. I shouldn’t have hedged my bets on this one.

Okay, so that list doesn’t break down too terribly—only two flagrant misses and a couple of soft hits. What about my Bets I Dislike list?

I want to be clear here—putting a card on this list doesn’t mean I don’t personally like it. In fact, a bunch of my favorite cards in the set are on this list. I also wouldn’t be shocked if any one or two of the above cards breaks out and goes up in value. The cards on this list are here simply due to variance. Many of them are situationally amazing or have a drawback that is still very uncertain. Call them the Skaab Ruinator all-stars—they could be amazing but also have a decent shot of busting out.

Considering the two breakout cards in the set were both on this list, go me? I guess?

Vraska will likely come down quite a bit from her $40 price tag, but I do think she will always be one of the most valuable cards in the set, probably settling in the $20-$25 range.

Considering Vraska is currently sitting at $7, I clearly underestimated how big the price drop would be. It’s very, very hard for any planeswalker that costs five or more mana to make an impact, especially one that requires two different colors to play.

When a card is preordering for $30-$40, it’s very hard to predict that the card is going to come down to sub-$10 range. It just looks so bad, and I almost always end up hedging a little and calling a 50-60% drop instead. In the future, I’m going to try to be more aggressive with my predictions.

Of the cards on this list, the most likely to pay off are Armada Wurm, Rakdos’s Return, and Deathrite Shaman. If Armada Wurm is the finisher of choice in Selesnya decks, he’ll be worth his $15 price tag. If not, this is a $4-$6 casual mythic. Rakdos’s Return might end up being too slow and situational. Deathrite Shaman might not be reliable enough as a mana producer to see play over the more stable Arbor Elf.

Deathrite Shaman being in the Bets I Dislike section doesn’t seem so egregious when you get down this far, but I still wildly underestimated the card. The fact that it’s a one drop, has a hybrid mana cost and has multiple relevant abilities should have been enough to ring a couple of bells in my mind.

Rest in Peace is one of the best graveyard hosers ever. A few years from now, it’ll likely settle at $5+ thanks to demand in Eternal formats. This type of card doesn’t do well while it’s in Standard, though, and I wouldn’t be shocked if it drops to $1 before long.

This isn’t far off from what happened, and I still like this card long term.

Epic Experiment is one of my favorite cards in the set, and it should see play in Modern. Unfortunately, Modern isn’t a very popular format.

Nope. Let me redo those two sentences the way they should have been written:

Epic Experiment is one of my favorite cards in the set, and it should see play in nothing because it’s terrible. Also, Modern is about to become a very popular format.

There! Much better.

Okay, now it’s time to brace myself and see what I wrote about Sphinx’s Revelation. Considering I put it on the dislike list, it must have been embarrassingly terrible, right?


Oh, that’s right—I wrote nothing about Sphinx’s Revelation in my Return to Ravnica set review. That’s how bad I thought the card would be. Now you can see why I’ve been putting this audit off for so long.

Why did I miss completely on Sphinx’s Revelation? I didn’t realize just how big a deal the instant speed of the card or the life gain would be. When I looked at it, I saw a more expensive version of Mind Spring, a card that was never very good. In addition, cards like this tend to start high due to hype and come down over time. I figured that the far more prohibitive casting cost on Sphinx’s Revelation would outweigh the added benefits, and I was wrong. The lesson here, I think, is that sometimes it’s easy to get caught up comparing cards historically and miss out on just what it takes to make a spell playable.

Gatecrash: Hits

Just like with Return to Ravnica, the biggest and least controversial call I made was to suggest a sell on nearly all of the chase rares. Here is the complete list of Gatecrash cards I told you to sell:

None of my "sell" calls backfired on me—if you had traded all of these away at the prerelease, you ended up in fine shape. Domri Rade at $25 was probably the closest any of these came to a miss, but you can buy these at $20 retail right now.

The other part of my Gatecrash set review that worked out? This is what I wrote about Boros Reckoner:

This card is sweet. While it can be wrathed away, Ultimate Price doesn’t kill it, and burning it out is going to hurt. Beyond that, it’s always going to at least gain you a little value in combat, and the first strike means that it’s going to win more struggles than it loses. This is a decently high impact card at every point in the game. It is also easier to cast than one might think and can play equally well in mono-red and Boros decks. I could easily see this being one of the higher value rares in the set. Buy.

Nailing the chase rare of the set is always a great feeling, especially one that was generally missed during the preorder period. This was one of the most important cards to get right over the past few months. I may have missed Sphinx’s Revelation and Deathrite Shaman, but now I’m one for three at least. That’s not a bad batting average!

Gatecrash: Misses

Who knew that every single card in Gatecrash except Boros Reckoner would go down in price? That kind of across-the-board drop is unprecedented. Standard cards, Eternal cards, casual cards . . . they all dropped off hard.

For whatever reason, Gatecrash and Dragon’s Maze both had a very low Constructed power level. This is especially true compared to the two previous sets—Avacyn Restored and Return to Ravnica—both of which oozed with staples. We evaluated Gatecrash through the same lens as those sets, which made us too optimistic. The preorder prices were high across the board, and the fact that so much of this set got opened kept the prices down as well.

Here’s a full list of cards I told you to buy and hold:



We touched on Boros Reckoner above, so let’s go through the other cards and see where I went wrong:

Sylvan Primordial – I think a lot of people read "each opponent" and automatically assumed this was a casual-only card. They’re probably right, but it’s still worth noting this card’s similarity to Woodfall Primus, a $12 card that has seen fringe play in Eternal formats. In Commander, I’d generally rather have the extra Forest(s) and the ability to take out multiple permanents in a multiplayer game than persist. This card is also one mana cheaper. This is easily the best Commander card in the set, and I like it to stay at or above $3 long term.

My analysis of this card hasn’t changed, which is why I’m sitting on a box of them that I picked up for $0.65 – $0.70 each. Unless this gets banned in Commander, it’ll be a $5 card at least a year or two from now. It did drop from $3 to $2, though, so picking it up at preorder was a poor call. Again, I now believe that you should always wait on casual staples.

Duskmantle Seer – Comparing this card to Dark Confidant is incorrect completely bananas, and I suspect that it is being underrated the most overrated card in the set because of that. PV did an excellent write-up of this card, comparing it more accurately to Sulfuric Vortex garbage. Essentially, it works as the top end of an aggressive tempo deck where giving your opponent card advantage is close to irrelevant won’t see play because it costs too much and draws your opponents cards.

If we end up in a format defined by cards like Prime Speaker Zegana and Obzedat, Ghost Council, hitting your opponent in the air for four while doming them for five or six is a pretty big game I’ll eat my hat because we’re in for another six months of boring Thragtusk fights. I also wouldn’t be would be very surprised if some of the aggressive R/B decks switched to Grixis mana bases for this card alone.

I can’t see any problems with that analysis. I was spot on. I wonder why I called the card a hold?

Prime Speaker ZeganaPrime Speaker Zegana feels like the strongest mythic in the set to me. She is certainly the mythic rare best positioned to make an impact right now, playing very nicely with Restoration Angel, Thragtusk, and the other Bant cards wreaking havoc in Standard. Much like with Obzedat, the mana cost is an issue, but now that we have all ten shocklands it should be easier to make cards like this work. She will also be fairly popular with the casual crowd, keeping the price reasonably high. I wouldn’t recommend investing at $15, but if this is the kind of card you like to play with, picking up a personal set seems like a reasonable investment.

While this might seem like another good place to use my red pen, I don’t think I was too far off. Domri Rade is clearly the strongest mythic in the set and Obzedat is probably the second best, but Prime Speaker sits comfortably in the number three slot, right? She did play well with all those Bant cards and have an immediate impact in Standard just like I predicted. The only problem was that the Prime Speaker deck never really made it to first tier playability.

Even still, I’m shocked that she’s selling for just $3—significantly less than several mythics that aren’t as good. I think she might make a comeback during this next Standard season.

Aurelia – Aurelia is kind of a beating, right? If you’re ahead at all, she comes down on turn six and immediately swings for six while giving you a second combat phase for the rest of your team as well. If your opponent is already staggering thanks to a few punches from a Hellrider or a Thundermaw, this gal should seal the deal. Even if you don’t have massive forces already assembled, she’s kind of a beating on her own. Relentless Assault normally costs four mana. Granted, it’s not a very good card at four, but paying just two additional white mana to also get a 3/4 vigilant Angel with haste seems kind of insane. Oh, and the effect is also repeatable.

This might be the best card in the set that no one is talking about. Of course, how many copies of this prohibitive six-drop do you need? In many ways, Aurelia has the same problem that her Fury does. I like the card a lot, but I don’t think her ceiling is high enough to recommend an investment. Casual and Constructed play should keep her from falling too far though.

Aurelia jumped as high as $25 before falling back to $7, so calling a hold on her at $15 was fine. I’m pretty confident that she’s a $15-$20 card long term—think Avacyn, Angel of Hope—and I believe $7 is a great buying opportunity. I’m going to pick up a couple of copies for myself.

Master Biomancer – This is an amazing card and is my personal favorite in the set. Getting a couple of these going at once is just nuts, and he plays very well with Prime Speaker Zegana and the rest of the Simic Combine. Unfortunately, I suspect he won’t see much Standard play except toward the more casual end of the spectrum, and because of that I can’t recommend a buy. I do think this is likely the mythic in the set with the most potential room to grow though. If someone figures out how to break it, look out. Monitor this one very closely.

The Master jumped from $10 to $15 before coming back down—he’s currently settled around $7. If you bought at $10, you’re still probably fine with it.

Borborygmos Enraged – This is the high risk/high reward mythic of the set. Let’s be honest, after ramping to eight mana you likely won’t have any more lands in your hand to throw at Borborygmos. In Eternal formats there are easier, more seismic ways of doing the same thing, and in Standard this is probably just too slow to play fair with. I suppose it’s possible that Borborygmos could be a finisher in some sort of Frites deck, combining Mulch and Unburial Rites with this guy as a way to finish off your opponent with one hit and a couple of activations though. This card also combos well with Enter the Infinite and/or Sphinx of the Chimes for whatever that’s worth.

I would not buy this card at $6—if he falls, he’s heading straight towards bulk—but this is one of the only cards in the set with the potential to triple in price. Monitor this mythic closely

This analysis still feels right to me. The combo didn’t pan out—I didn’t expect it to—though he did see occasional play in some really interesting rogue decks. It’s good to consider cards like this because they’re the kinds of specs that you kick yourself for missing out on if they pan out. I’d rather write 500 words about a card that turns out to be bulk than forget to even acknowledge the existence of the next Sphinx’s Revelation.

Frontline MedicFrontline Medic is a bit of a clunker to look at, but it’s still a very fine card. It’s easy to cast, has a decent body, and sports two reasonably relevant abilities. The quality of this card will basically come down to how reasonable it is to activate battalion. The indestructability isn’t much of a trick since your opponent can still kill this or any other creature pre-combat, but it does pretty much guarantee victory in the battle itself. Casual players dig indestructability in a major way, so I don’t see this card falling below the $3-$4 range even if it doesn’t see Constructed play. It likely will though.

This card is currently sitting at $3, and that’s mostly due to fringe and casual play. It’s possible that a B/W Humans deck or a W/R Boros deck might start using this guy in the future, especially if Theros gives us anymore good X spells, but for now it’s holding value mainly due to how good it is in a vacuum.

Blind ObedienceWhen I asked my Twitter followers what they felt was the most underrated card in the entire set, Blind Obedience won by a wide margin. This isn’t quite Kismet—lands coming into play tapped was always the most backbreaking part of that card—but this is a very potent tool against a lot of what makes Standard tick right now. Life gain has never been better, and abusing this card in an Esper shell with Azorius Charm and Unsummon seems like the real deal. It’s also very good against Hellrider, Thundermaw Hellkite, and Aurelia and is neat in Commander. I could see this creeping up into the $7-$8 range pretty easily.

It turns out having a two-drop that makes all of your other cards more expensive without impacting the board isn’t all that great. I have higher hopes for Imposing Sovereign, who is now tasked with being the "good" version of this. He’s already up to $6 and could go higher.

Spark TrooperIf battalion is going to be a Constructed mechanic, it’s going to be on the back of several strong haste creatures allowing you to go off a turn earlier than expected. If this only cost red, I could see it as Hellriders five through eight, and it would immediately become a format staple. Is it good enough at 1WWR? I honestly think it might be. This card gives you the consistency that Firemane Avenger lacks, albeit at the cost of long-term board presence. I feel like Boros might be more of a "burst" deck now, especially with all of the Supreme Verdicts running around, and this will be a very scary card to face when you’re trying to race. This deck can’t beat Thragtusk.

This card is on my list of things to revisit after Restoration Angel and Thragtusk rotate. It’s a nice little post-hype sleeper right now—you can pick them up for almost nothing.

Crypt Ghast – Not only is Cabal Coffers one of the most popular casual cards, but it was the lynchpin of MBC in Standard. Crypt Ghast is much more vulnerable, of course, but the added utility of extort and a 2/2 body shouldn’t be ignored. People played with Oracle of Mul Daya, right? With so many great multicolored spells running around I don’t think there’s room for this in Standard right now, but it will hold casual value for years. This is a solid pickup at $3.

This card has held its value at $3, and it’s another that I love over the long term as a casual staple. If this card had been released in an era where mono-black was more of a thing, I think it could have made a nice impact in Standard too. Oh well.

Dragon’s Maze: Hits

Dragon’s Maze is basically just Gatecrash with Voice of Resurgence in it—another bust of a set to round out one of the most anticipated blocks ever. Seriously, I like a lot of the cards in Gatecrash and Dragon’s Maze, but Return to Ravnica set a very high bar that neither follow-up set came close to hitting. Considering you’d have to at least consider trading your Dragon’s Maze set minus Voice of Resurgence for a Voice of Resurgence, my review basically lives and dies with what I said about the marquee card. Voice was just $20 when I submitted my set review.

Voice of Resurgence – Standard this summer is going to be absurd, and this card will be causing havoc for control decks right alongside Thragtusk. If I’m playing U/W, what am I going to do against two of these and a Thragtusk? Wrathing the board is just going to leave the midrange deck in a stronger position. It’s a good thing for the rest of us that you can’t cast this off a Burning-Tree Emissary.

Mythic rares with very low casting costs always scare me from a finance perspective. These cards are more likely to be played, especially in large numbers, and if they turn out to be good, they’ll likely be played in Eternal formats as well. Voice of Resurgence may yet turn out to be a dud, but considering how much potential it has I can’t recommend you start trading these away yet. If it’s as good as it seems, you’ll want to make sure you have a set for years to come. Hold.

Okay, that’s not bad. There were five cards in the set that presold for $10 or more: Voice of Resurgence, Ral Zarek, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Legion’s Initiative, and Master of Cruelties. I called hold on Voice and Blood Baron, the latter of which has only dropped a little bit and has started to rebound. I called sell on Ral, Legion’s Initiative, and Master of Cruelties, all of which tanked. I’m proud of my hit rate on the chase mythics.

Should I have called Voice a buy based on my analysis? Well, the vast majority of $20-and-up mythic rares will drop in price after release, so I don’t know if I’m ever going to put out a buy on a brand new card that starts above $20. It would have to be Jace, the Mind Sculptor reborn honestly because the risk is too high otherwise. My audit would look better if I had told you to buy Voices at $20 back in the spring, but I’m glad I erred on the side of caution here—it was the right call to make with the information that I had.

Dragon’s Maze: Misses

There are just four rares in this set worth at least $2 right now: Exava ($2), Varolz ($3), Aetherling ($4), and Advent of the Wurm ($4). Isn’t that shocking?

Other than Blood Scrivener, who I still love, I did a very good job of predicting which rares would stay high compared to the rest of the set. I stuck my nose out for Varolz, Aetherling, and Advent, and I panned on Notion Thief, Ruric Thar, and Beck//Call. The problem? When every single rare drops, all of my hold calls are going to look awful and all of my sell calls are going to look great across the board. That doesn’t do anyone any good.

I used to believe that cards in the summer set would always be worth preordering compared to cards in the fall and winter set. For one, Wizards generally slips their most broken cards in near the end of the block where they’ll do the least amount of damage. There’s also less time to playtest in development leading to more possible mistakes, and people are sick of the block mechanics by this point leading to reduced sales numbers. The nature of the draft format suppresses availability as well. I still think there’s some truth to this, but after living through Dragon’s Maze I now believe that this isn’t a hard and fast rule—just a guideline. Summer sets can be just as depressed as any of the others depending on what’s in them.

The good news here is that I like nearly every card in Dragon’s Maze as a solid spec target. Even cheap cards like Plasm Capture—down to just $1—are going to hold casual demand and will eventually hit $3-$4 again. Tournament staples like Aetherling and Advent of the Wurm are going to be more in demand for Standard this fall when the supply will have dropped off considerably. You should pick up whatever you want from Dragon’s Maze (other than Voice of Resurgence) right about now.

This Week’s Trends

Lifebane Zombie is the hottest card in M14 right now. Several of the Jund decks at Worlds ran three or four of him maindeck, and it’s up to $10 on StarCityGames.com. This card could easily stabilize at $15, so if you can pick it up in trade for any less than $10, you should go for it.

– Don’t believe me that summer Standard is a lame duck format? Well, Bonfire of the Damned is seeing as much or more play now than it was this time last year, but SCG is still selling them for $12—the lowest it’s been since the week it was spoiled. People don’t like to buy cards that are about to rotate.

– MIA in the Modern section of worlds: Birthing Pod. I don’t think that spells doom for the card though—it’s just a quirk of people anticipating a lot of hate in the metagame. Birthing Pod will still be a very popular deck in the coming Modern season.

Until next week –

– Chas Andres