Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #147: When is Enough Enough?

When is it too much? The cost of playing competitive Magic is rising more and more quickly. So is the cost of casual Magic. Is it becoming too expensive? Last year I wrote about the increasing cost of decks. It’s even worse now.

When is enough enough?

When is it too much? The cost of playing competitive Magic is rising more and more quickly. So is the cost of casual Magic. Is it becoming too expensive? Last year I wrote about the increasing cost of decks. It’s even worse now.

I am playing both online and in paper. I try to stay reasonably competitive in both venues, but the cost of cards is making it hard – for me. Since I am in a very lucky position (see below), it must be really tough for new players.

My position: I’m gainfully employed. My wife not only approves of my hobby; she plays, too. We are willing to devote some of our income to our hobby. What’s better, we both are judges, and judges get “paid” in cards. Typically, that payment is about a box per event (the Wizards standard is something like a pack per player, divided among all the judges, but our TO usually bumps that up a bit.) Sometimes that’s a good deal – sometimes you end up working your ass off dealing with smelly, obnoxious players for less than a pack an hour.

We have judged Prereleases, Pro Tour Qualifiers, States, Regionals, a few Pro Tours, some Grand Prix Trials and a few Grand Prixes, plus US Nationals and – once in a while – Worlds. That produces up to two-dozen boxes of boosters a year. We also try to buy a couple of boxes locally, to support the stores at which we play. We draft with some of it, play “sealed” and pack wars games, and so forth. And we just open some of it – usually to pass time on the drive back home.

We have a lot of cards, and we still don’t have playsets of a number of staples, like Sacred Foundry and Loxodon Hierarch, not to mention cards from the later sets. Online is about the same – but I have better stats for that.

Now Wizards is about to release Coldsnap. Coldsnap will be tournament legal, even for Standard. More cards to chase down.

Wizards notes that it has printed a fourth set during the summer each of the last three years. These included Eight Edition, Unhinged, and Ninth Edition. However, these sets were not as significant an expense to the tournament world as Coldsnap will be. Unhinged will never be tournament legal, so we didn’t buy any. Eight and Ninth Editions are all reprints of cards from prior sets, and many of them were also in prior base sets, so the actual number of new cards is low. Ninth Edition did incorporate a number of Portal cards, so I did have to hunt for some of them, but not that many.

Coldsnap will have 40 brand new rares, 50 uncommons, and 65 commons. Most will be new (although they’re reprinting the snow-covered lands and one or two other cards.)

To get a playset of all the Coldsnap rares by opening packs would require opening about 160 packs – or a bit less than five boxes of boosters. That is a lot of boosters. At retail, that will run about $600.00 – a bit more with taxes added.

If you can get away with rare-drafting (and you don’t mind creaming your rating), you can get the bad rares fairly easily that way, or just buy or trade for them. The chase rares (although I must say that I haven’t seen any really good ones) are harder. You either have to open those, or buy them.

Nevertheless, it seems that Coldsnap will make Magic a bit more expensive – and it is already pretty pricey.

A few weeks ago, I priced out some of the main Standard decks, both in paper and online. These prices are what reputable online retailers, like StarCityGames, will charge. Obviously, if you get lucky online, and don’t get ripped off, you may pay less. If you steal a copy, your cash outlay will be even lower (but, if you do, I hope you spend 3-5 with a cellmate whose whole vocabulary is “bend over, mofo.”)

Anyway, here are the prices:

Ghost Husk: paper $392, MTGO $ 242
UR Magnivore: paper $200, MTGO $140
Heezy Street: paper $250, MTGO $145
Zoo: paper $405, MTGO $216
Firemane Control: paper $337, MTGO $…

About then I got tired of doing the math. The decks were definitely expensive.

I can still remember back when I started playing older formats competitively. Ingrid and I both bought beat-up Black Lotuses, and the combined price of both was less than the price of some of these decks. I have bought a lot of original dual lands, but I don’t think I ever paid as much for any of them as I would to buy a Steam Vents today.

The lands are a big part of the cost of the decks, but not all. Here are the retail costs of just the lands in these decks, together with the percentage of total price that the lands comprise.

Ghost Husk: paper $124 (32%), MTGO $ 80 (33%)
UR Magnivore: paper $123 (56%), MTGO $84 (60%)
Heezy Street: paper $95 (38%), MTGO $67 (46%)
Zoo: paper $247 (61%), MTGO $141 (65%)
Firemane Control: paper $194 (58%)

I have always had some problems with lands being chase rares. City of Brass was bad enough, but City was one card – four made a playset. With City gone; replaced by duals and painlands, you need a playset for every combination of colors. Painlands are not cheap, either in real life or online. Neither are dual lands. In fact, they are bloody hard to get.

On MTGO, I have been working hard to get the painlands and duals needed to play the decks I want to play. I have been online for about 18 months, and have spent an average of $150 per month on the game. I have kept track of my purchases, both through the online store and elsewhere, and I have concentrated on base sets, plus Ravnica block.

I have bought just under 350 Tix. I have used maybe half of those for entering events, and the other half in the Auction, buying from bots and so forth. I have done a bit of trading, but only very rarely.

I have bought 69 Ninth Edition packs, and won about 75 more. I have 220 Ninth Edition rares. I have no Wraths, 1 Hyppie and an average of 2.2 of each of the ten painlands. Having opened roughly 144 packs, the odds say I should have 1.3 of each, but I have bought a significant number of painlands. That said, I have playsets of Karplusan Forest and Sulfurous Springs, and no Shivan Reefs.

I have also been working on Ravnica block. Through bulk purchases, drafts, leagues, rare-drafting, etc., I have accumulated playsets of 62 of the 88 rares. You can guess which ones. If they are included in the decks listed above, I don’t have playsets.

For Guildpact, I have 108 rares. I have playsets of the cards like the White Leyline, two different Nephiluims, Sanguine Praetor, and Earth Surge, but only two dual lands and no Ghost Councils.

Dissension is worse, but I explained that a while back.

The cost of lands is a significant expense. I have played a bit of competitive, sanctioned extended on MTGO, but I haven’t played any sanctioned Standard yet. I don’t have the lands to build a competitive deck.

The dual lands are ridiculously expensive. Wizards knew they would be chase cards, and they knew that people will be busting packs hoping for duals for as long as unopened Ravnica block packs will exist. I can understand why Wizards wants to have chase rares, and what that does for the bottom line. However, Wizards could have done everyone a favor and included the lands in the precons. After all, every guild was featured in a precon, and every guild has an associated dual land. That would have helped limit the cost of lands, at least online. I mean, look at Umezawa’s Jitte. For a long time, it was one of the best cards in Standard, but its price topped at the cost of the precon that contained it (at least online.)

When lands make the cost of decks this expensive, it’s almost enough to make people play Duel Masters. (Duel Masters does not use lands.)

In the article I wrote about the increasing cost of decks last year, I ranked the Tier 1 Block decks by the number of chase rares, etc. they contained. The full description of the process is in that article, but the basic weighting is:

Chase Rares: 8
Normal Rares: 5
Junk Rares: 1
Chase Uncommons: 4
Normal Uncommons: 0.5

Thus, a Battle of Wits deck with 4 Battles and 246 Islands would have four normal rares, plus 246 lands (no weighting) for a total rating of 20.

Using that rating, the average rating for Tier 1 decks in past blocks was:

Masques Block Constructed: 79
Invasion Block Constructed: 150
Odyssey Block Constructed: 86
Onslaught Block Constructed: 145
Mirrodin Block Constructed: 121
Kamigawa Block Constructed: 192

Using the same scoring system, the decks of the winning team at Pro Tour Charleston had the following rankings:

Kajiharu80, Seat A
Chase Rares: 18 (*8) = 144
Normal Rares: 6 (* 5) = 30
Junk Rares: 1 (* 1) = 1
Chase Uncommons: 14 (* 4) = 56
Normal Uncommons: 8 (* 0.5) = 4
Rating: 235

Kajiharu80, Seat B
Chase Rares: 15 (*8) = 120
Normal Rares: 8 (* 5) = 40
Junk Rares: 2 (* 1) = 2
Chase Uncommons: 17(* 4) = 68
Normal Uncommons: 2 (* 0.5) = 1
Rating: 231

Kajiharu80, Seat C
Chase Rares: 28 (*8) = 224
Normal Rares: 7 (* 5) = 35
Junk Rares: 0 (* 1) = 0
Chase Uncommons: 12 (* 4) = 48
Normal Uncommons: 7 (* 0.5) = 3.5
Rating: 310

Average for the team: 258, and that’s dividing the good cards among a three-player team.

Here’s the historical results again:

Masques Block Constructed: 79
Invasion Block Constructed: 150
Odyssey Block Constructed: 86
Onslaught Block Constructed: 145
Mirrodin Block Constructed: 121
Kamigawa Block Constructed: 192
Ravnica Block Constructed: 258

It really is looking more and more like you either get your hands on the chase cards, or you don’t play sanctioned tournaments.

And now Wizards is adding Coldsnap. More rares, more must have cards.

Now this may just be subjective, but it also seems like the best cards in every category are moving up in rarity. Here are some examples of comparing then and now.

Best counterspell: Counterspell (common) / Voidslime (rare) (honorable mention to Remand at uncommon)

Best creature: Wild Mongrel (common) or Psychatog (uncommon) / Loxodon Hierarch or Skeletal Vampire or Simic Sky Swallower (all rares)

Best discard: Duress (common) / Persecute (rare)

Best damage prevention: Circle of Protection: Red (common) / Shining Shoal (rare)

Best land: Wasteland (uncommon) / any pain or dual land (all rares)

Best creature pump: Rancor (common) / Umezawa’s Jitte (rare)

Best invitational card: Avalanche Rider (uncommon) / Dark Confidant (rare)

Best creature removal spell: Wrath of God (okay, some things never change)

Heck, to finish it off, best Timmy equipment: Loxodon Warhammer (then an uncommon) / Loxodon Warhammer (now rare)

Like I said, it’s subjective. Other people may find other cards to stick in these slots, and may come to other conclusions, but the trend seems fairly real. In any case, it will take more work than I am willing to undertake to prove or disprove this concept.

I’m going to end now, and see if I can get a draft in this evening.


pete {dot} jahn {at} verizon {dot} net

A quick end note, to forestall the forum posts – no, judging is not an easy way to get cards, at least not where I judge. You either work hard the whole time and really know your sh**, or you don’t get asked back. Our TO can be selective: here are the stats on the six judges who did the Coldsnap prerelease:

Average judge level: a bit above 2.

Pro Tour Experience: five of us have either judged or played at a PT.

Other experience: four of us were Wizards playtesters for Mirrodin (in paper.) Two write for StarCityGames.com (Chris Richter and myself), two for other sites. etc.

Your local TO might not be quite as lucky, but Wizards is doing a lot to improve the quality of judging worldwide.