Well hello there! Welcome to a brand spankin’ new year of Tribal Thriftiness. I hope you rang in the New Year in style, watched a little Ryan Seacrest on the telly, and made yourself a couple of resolutions to help you become a better person, both inside and out.
Ah, who am I kidding, we both know that we both made the resolution to lose a little weight, and we both know that we both broke the resolution about three hours into the New Year.
Be Prepared For Lots of “Conflux Capacitor” Jokes
About this time every year (okay, every three months) I start getting excited for the new set. Official previews start popping up all over the place, in print magazines and online, and even the mothership has started doing her “Official Previews.” And so I really, really want to start talking about spoiled cards from the new set… but nothing’s really shaping up. There are a few cards here and there, but nothing that’s really spoke to me. (Okay, besides the fifteenth attempt at making a “fixed” Swords to Plowshares.) So I’m hoping that, if I give it another week, things will start to take shape in my mind. And then we can talk about new stuff properly.
New Year’s Resolutions – Redux
Last year about this time, I offered up some “resolutions” that players with a budget in mind might make in order to help stretch their Magic dollars. It turns out that it was one of my personal favorites from the first year of TT, and so I thought I would go back and revisit the resolutions and see how I did – and whether they still apply to the rest of the world or not.
(And no, before you ask, I did not lose weight. At least not appreciably.)
1. Build up your collection of staples: Magic is a constantly moving object. Whether it’s the annual shift of sets into and out of Standard, or just the introduction of new cards four times a year, there seems to always be things to spend money on. This makes for a wide spectrum of choices. Do you splash the cash on the new hotness, only to see it fall by the wayside as the format changes? A great example is Ancestral Vision, a card that peaked around $12.00, but now rests comfortably at $6.00 here at StarCityGames.com. If you had spent your money at the peak of the price curve, you’d be kicking yourself. (Much like I was kicking myself at the after-Christmas sales in the mall today. If I could have celebrated Christmas about a week after the rest of the world, I’d have spent about half the money and gotten about twice the presents. But that’s a horse of a different color.) This is an excellent way to waste what little money you have available. If you’re absolutely adamant about buying singles, the place to focus is on staples: cards that have a great likelihood of staying in the format you play over an extended period of time.
There will always be cards that are played regardless of format, and will hold up well as time goes on. Cards like Wrath of God, Birds of Paradise, and the pain lands have been around for so long that you shouldn’t have any problems picking them up. Sure, staples change as the format shifts, but if you like Faeries (for some degenerate reason), and you plan on playing them in a number of formats over a long period of time, then you should have a playset of Bitterblossoms by now. Even at $22.50, a single Bitterblossom will do more for your Faerie deck than five packs of Shards of Alara.
Of course, with this resolution comes a little bit of speculation, and the reason for this is simple: 11th Edition comes out this summer. At this point, if you don’t have pain lands (for example), do you buy them and hope that they come back in 11th Edition? Or do you play the speculation game (and ride current rumors) and invest in the Ravnica duals? The time could be right for buyers: Most of the Ravnica duals are between $7 and $10 right now, whereas they were $15-$20 easily when Ravnica was Standard-legal. The same goes for Damnation, which has a shot at replacing Wrath of God, however outside that seems. Damnation right now sits at $14 ($12.50 used), which is a pretty nice price compared to the $20-$25 it was when it was Standard-legal.
Both the Ravnica duals and Damnation are great staples, and really become important (and more expensive) if they come back into Standard. So I personally think they are “value more” when you’re looking to upgrade your staples stock.
Personally, I did pretty well on this. I spent some effort making sure I had a set of Thoughtseizes (which really become Extended staples now that Duress and Cabal Therapy have rotated out) and I picked up some ‘unique’ singletons for use in Elder Dragon Highlander and, should I ever play the format, Vintage – stuff like a Sol Ring and a Yawgmoth’s Will. Please note that this is NOT to suggest that I will be looking to play in a big Vintage tournament any time soon.)
2. Take advantage of the rotation: So back to the mall. I was out shopping the after-Christmas sales on Wednesday, as was most of Denver, or so it seemed. Don’t these people work? Every store we went into had a sale going on all their Christmas items that were leftover, and my wife dutifully “stocked up” for next year.
Magic has a similar after-Christmas sale: the after-rotation sale. Every October, when the new “large set” comes around and Wizards shifts a year’s worth of cards out of Standard, the big cards from the expiring set have a sort of fire sale. This is a great time to stock up on the cards that you couldn’t afford back when they were in Standard, but will want for other formats you play.
This is, again, highlighted by Damnation and the Ravnica dual lands, but there are other Time Spiral cards that have been grossly discounted from their “spotlight” time in Standard. Ancestral Vision (as an example from the first point) is available for half what it was up above ($3 for the one from Jace versus Chandra). Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir has dropped at least half as well after being the backbone of an entire deck, now sitting comfortably at $4 – and so is his little Wizard buddy Venser, Shaper Savant. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is down at $4 as well. Spectral Force is a DOLLAR. Heck, even the giant white hippopotamus in the room, Tarmogoyf, came down in price, and now looks positively svelte at $30 when compared to his asking price of $50 during Standard-legality.
Time Spiral’s rotation also meant good things for the prices of the “Timeshifted” cards, which are in less demand AND in greater quantities than their first pass through Standard. (I mean, some of them never HAD a first pass.) A good example is Call of the Herd. When it was first available in Odyssey, it featured prominently in Standard and had a price tag usually around $8-$10. Now that they’ve rotated Yet Again, they’re available for $3. Nice. By the same token, it opens up a lot of cards to players who weren’t around for the first time through. I never owned a Merieke Ri Berit but saw a few around the kitchen table; now I can get one for fifty cents.
The sheer number of cards that rotated thanks to Time Spiral’s removal from Standard is astonishing, and there are tons of fun stuff in there for everyone.
For me, I made sure I had my set of Timbermares ($1.50). They weren’t exactly expensive when they were Standard-legal, but I want to make sure I have a playset for Jamie Wakefield to sign, if ever I should meet the great master who influenced so much of my Magical youth.
This year: I resolve to wait to buy sets of the Shadowmoor and Eventide filter lands. Even though they’re still fairly reasonable ($4-$10 for the non-Graven-Cairns ones), I’m not hurting for any of them at the moment. They’ll all drop by quite a bit when they rotate out, as they don’t really fit in Extended.
3. Find local players to make a playgroup: Magic, at its core, is a social sport. You can play in a vacuum (by Magic Online or other software), but it was designed as a game that benefits from being played by a group of people. Finding a group of players in your area will give you a lot of benefits, not the least of which is the ability to borrow cards. It will also give you a sounding board for deck ideas, a way to practice if you want to improve your game, and just a regular group of guys and girls to get together with. And, if you really want those four Chandra Nalaars for your deck but don’t want to run out the thirty bucks for them, maybe you can supplement your deck with cards from your friends.
Practice makes perfect, or, in my case, 4-3-1 or something like that. But that’s not the point. This year was the first entire year being back in the States for me, and the first entire year spent playing in American Magic events like Friday Night Magic and PTQs and States and Regionals. We had most of them over in Germany (even a special Regionals for Americans stationed or living overseas), but they were on a much smaller magnitude compared to what happens in comic book stores and game shops here in the US. And that meant that I got a chance to meet the people here in Colorado Springs, make friends, and be part of a bigger Magic community. I think it benefits everyone involved. There was no way I could have played Vengeant Kithkin at States this year without borrowing a ton of cards from my friends. Special shout-out to my friend Randy, who provided just about everything I was missing maindeck, including the Ajani Vengeants and the Eventide lands.
This year: To not only foster the friendships that I have built, but to make sure that I always am available to loan out cards whenever they might be needed. Hey, it’s a two-way street, and I know that. And to always be available to get Mongolian BBQ after tournaments in Denver.
4. Break out of your rut: When I was in Germany, there was a young man who came to our Legacy tournaments and always played the same deck. It was a Goblin deck, fairly well built, and he always did well in our tournaments, but I always felt that he continued to play the same deck simply because he didn’t have (or want to spend) the money necessary to put together another competitive Legacy deck. Continuing with a deck is a good way to keep down the costs, but it’s also a good way to burn out quickly. Everyone wants change; that’s one of the fabulous parts of this game — that we can play completely different decks from one day to the next. So, if you’re stuck in a rut, take this resolution: take the time to go through your collection and find something new that interests you.
We all come into contact with So Many Cards over the course of a set, a block, a lifetime. Every time you draft – you get new cards. Every time you attend a Prerelease – you get new cards. Every holiday, if you’re like me, you get new cards. It becomes so easy to get settled into a deck that you like and that you play well, but it means that dozens of hundreds of cards probably sit in cardboard boxes, ignored. The next time you’re feeling beat about playing the same deck week in and week out, don’t go onto the Internet and start building the Next Big Thing. Take the time to look through your collection and see what tickles your fancy. You never know what you might find.
I mean, last week I was looking for cards to build Desire for playtesting and I found a Tournament Pack of Shadowmoor. It had a Wooded Bastion in it still! Nothing else good, but hey, Wooded Bastion. You just never know what you might find.
This year for me was the year of Warp World. I played a ton of the “Big Decks” but never had a better time than when I was playing Warp World. While I personally blame / praise Bennie Smith for turning me on to this, it’s exactly the sort of thing that I’m talking about. All of the playtesting in Extended reminded me that I had once played Battle of Wits in an Extended GP Trial. I just might run that out some day. (Next year. This year is Desire.)
5. Get involved online: You’re already paying for an internet connection, so why not put it to good use? There are a number of Magic sites that offer online trading, plus there are ways to play Magic online, including … well, Magic Online. Online trading is a great way to get the singles that you need, especially if you are on a budget and live in an area without an active, “live” Magic community.
MTGO continues to have plentiful options when it comes to helping out the budget player, and not all of them are provided by Wizards themselves. There are numerous bots who give away cards, and a ton more who sell commons and uncommons cheaply. It’s becoming very easy to pick up the draft cast-offs that get turned in by continuous drafters and make a decent casual deck. Shards, in particular, has a number of linear decks that can be built using mostly commons and uncommons – and you can pick those cards up for a ticket or two.
Another great thing is that Wizards has introduced Swiss queues to the Draft room, which allows you to stretch out your drafting dollar – rather than drafting once and being booted out of the tournament after one match (due to mana screw or poor play, either of which is applicable in my case), now you can play three rounds – and even still win packs! I like them a lot better than the 4-3-2-2 draft queues, even though sometimes I draft a horrible deck and would rather concede to three rounds of opponents than play three rounds. That last one was Grixis and it was horrible. TWO Infests! And I never had double-Black when it mattered.
Wizards did a great thing over the holiday (and it will be over by the time you read this) – removing the ticket cost from all the Draft queues. I spent all weekend drafting for about $25. It was a lot easier to “go infinite” when I didn’t have to worry about selling cards to a store to get the two tickets for the entry fee. Here’s hoping that they do that a lot more in the future.
This year: I’m planning on doing more testing on Magic Workstation where time allows, for bigger tournaments. One thing that I felt I missed out on last year was the local playtesting scene; as a married guy with family obligations, I’m not always available to play FNM, much less to attended weekly playtesting sessions. But a laptop and a bed? Those I got, and I hope I can put them to better use.
Auld Lang Syne Off
I’m interested to hear what resolutions you might have for improving the value of the money you spend on Magic in the new year – and how you did at getting the most for your buck last year, if you want to share. Hit the forums, or drop me an email.
Next week I plan on hitting official previews with a vengeance, and maybe figure out that Sunstrike Legionnaire combo deck that somebody mentioned in the forums.
Until next week!
dave dot massive at gmail and facebook