Privileged Perspective 1: Genesis

Hi! My name is Ross. I typically prefer to keep these initial introductions pretty short, since you will hopefully learn more about me through my writing than a ham-fisted miniature biography. Perhaps you are familiar with some of my many award-winning tweets? Haha, you’re right, that WAS a good one! Take that, status quo!

The purpose of this article series is simple: page-views. exploring Magic through various perspectives. I have an academic background in history, and every historian knows that the moon landing was faked. one side doesn’t tell the entire story. As someone who has been around all aspects of Magic for more than a decade, I certainly feel that I have the advantage of perspective to share. These articles will typically be more train-of-thought in structure, or like a podcast in the sense that I may totally lose track of what I’m talking about or lie to my publisher to avoid deadlines (Hi, Jason!). I hope at the very least that my writing inspires you on a deeply resonant spiritual level and makes me a ton of money.

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This week it’s specialization, conspiracies (not the draft set, the “holy crap, he’s insane” ones), and some Standard finance talk. Let’s get started!

On Specialization

If you have watched any sort of streaming Modern tournament in the last year, you have heard some iteration of the following: “This format rewards players who focus on learning to play one style of deck”. While the statement may seem obvious and unnecessary to repeat ad nauseum (because it is), this is also very likely the saving grace of the Modern format. Modern replaced Nu Extended, which replaced Extended, which was my favorite format. If you weren’t around for the halcyon days of Extended, then you’ve likely heard that it was “just a PTQ format” (PTQs were tournaments you could pla—eh, forget it). Because Extended rotated annually (like Standard), the ability to “specialize” was very difficult—archetypes dependent on a single card or interaction all had an expiration date (think [card]Birthing Pod[/card]), and there were fewer events to hone the particular set of skills required to elevate your play. Legacy and Vintage have always had these specialists, because the dead are not bound by the shackles of time.

The ability to specialize affords Modern a lot of hidden benefits at every level of play. While I am mostly okay with the original idea of Standard-only pro tours, it is definitely exciting to see skilled players master an archetype over several seasons, and builds a unique anticipation for the events. On the opposite end of that spectrum, it is easy to grow new Modern players locally if they are able to make the transition off of a particularly robust Standard season (of which we have had a few recently).

BRIEF ASIDE- I’ve helped push a few players at my store out into the breach of Modern, and having easy access to recently reprinted staples like [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and shock lands has definitely helped. I don’t envy someone who tries to buy in three years from now, and sees the prices on things like [card]Abrupt Decay[/card], [card]Thoughtseize[/card], and [card]Overgrown Tomb[/card].

Part of the reason why [card]Bitterblossom[/card] received such a hearty welcome on its unbanning was because people who had committed to playing it for so long had the chance to truly specialize in the deck. I’ve played against Modern faeries a few times, and the players who didn’t play the deck when it was in Standard have yet to take a game from me.

bitterblossom

An Inconvenient Truth

At this point, I have no doubt that Khans of Tarkir will be the best-selling Magic set of all time. Then again, that is a distinction that is losing credibility every time it gets handed out (like a Grammy!).

When Zendikar became the best-selling set of all time, it was at the beginning of the player boom that we are now several years into. When Return to Ravnica became the best-selling set ever, it wasn’t a surprise—WotC even back-loaded the announcement because they knew people would go crazy-town banana-pants for it.

Zendikar and Return to Ravnica were sets that weren’t just “fun to draft” or “had exciting rares.” There was a magnetism in the air that you could feel. People weren’t just excited, they were enthralled. With Zendikar, I remember driving around with some friends to every store we could think of in central Florida, just trying to get our hands on as much of it as we could. The fear that product would actually dry up as stores waited for the second print run was something unimaginable in that era, and yet it did! Return to Ravnica, possibly the most genuinely hyped set ever, had such demand on release that stores were afraid that the distributors wouldn’t even have enough!

Then, apparently, Theros outsold them both.

TherosSymbol

It’s like when Titanic was the highest-grossing movie ever, and you said “That movie was incredible! They were in love, even though society would never allow it! “She changed her last name to Dawson to remember him forever!” And then the Lord of the Rings trilogy broke that record and you said, “SHIT YEAH! FRODO AND GIMLI AND LEGOLAS AND THE GUY FROM A BRIEF HISTORY OF VIOLENCE AND THE GUY FROM LOST AND BOROMIR AND ORCS AND THE GUY WHO PLAYED COUNT DOOKU AND MORE ORCS AND…” Well, let’s just say you were pretty excited about those movies too.

And then Theros, like some sort of comic book movie sequel blows them both out of the water, because people bought Super Deluxe HD 3D tickets that cost $45 dollars each, and a part of you just sinks. Theros wasn’t a bad set, and Khans certainly isn’t either, but they don’t have that same spark in the air that was inescapable with the first two. I’ll never let go, Jack!

…This, of course, brings us to a much darker point.

The reason why these sets keep blowing each other out is the astronomical population growth I ever so briefly mentioned before. This is also the reason why, if that population ever stops growing or regresses, Magic finance will be absolutely turned upside down. It may sound crazy, and we may never actually get the hard numbers, but here are some things that I have been pondering over for the past year or so:

    1. Zendikar was the beginning of the player boom, fall of ’09 (five years ago).
    2. Mark Rosewater says that the average player sticks around for roughly eight years.
    3. Because of the double-digit population growth in Magic, half of all Magic players have been playing for two years or less.
    4. We are currently more than halfway through the life of a player who started at the beginning of the boom.
    5. Jet fuel burns at 800-1500 degrees, but steel melts at 2750 degrees.

These problems are still several years away, but WOTC is in the business of working in the future (some in the “future future”), and print runs are very difficult to change last minute. If the eight-year mark sees a drop in player growth that matches the gains we saw five years ago, then the trend may continue (bursting a player bubble, if there is one), and meaning sets, at least in the short term, get overprinted, thus meaning a supply spike, a demand drop, and very likely, the return of Elo ratings and block PTQs.

The flipside to this, of course, is that player population doesn’t start dropping off, and that we stay on this “everyone just plays Magic now” train for years to come. If the drop off at the eight-year mark is slight, or is so small the amount of new players coming in makes up for it, then I expect blocks even as popular as RTR and Theros to have some huge financial upside. Print run orders got ramped up after the Zendikar shortage, and like baseball players in the ’90s, I expect they get juiced more and more every year. The reason early Modern cards (or just Future Sight in general) hold some of these weird premiums is that print runs for analogous sets (fall block to fall block, etc.) are in some cases way off in terms of scale.

tarmogoyf

A couple common-sense Modern rules of thumb: if it’s a frequent three- or four-of in multiple decks ([card]Abrupt Decay[/card], [card]Thoughtseize[/card]), it’s safe no matter what set it’s in. If it’s in a third set, especially if it has a set-specific mechanic ([card]Birthing Pod[/card], [card]Spellskite[/card]), it’s safe. I expect the next Modern Masters to be printed in higher volumes, but I don’t know if the set cutoff (last time it was Alara Reborn) will make it up to New Phyrexia or Innistrad. It likely depends on if it’s coming this summer or not. If they don’t make it to New Phyrexia, expect another surge on the two cards I mentioned in this paragraph.

PT Watch

You’re most likely You are reading this after PT Hawaii ended. Who won? Never mind, that’s not important right now. How many [card]Wingmate Roc[/card]s were in the top eight? This is a card that is getting talked up a lot prior to the PT, and is likely one of the better mythics in Khans. If you didn’t buy in before the price hit $10, however, it may be best to wait it out.

Every [card]Wingmate Roc[/card] deck had Elspeth in it, right? They synergize really well together, and can do a good job of playing offense or defense. Elspeth is, like most of the jocks from my high school, going to go out on top, before failing to ever make something of herself in the real world. I don’t see her coming down for any reason until rotation, though, so if you need a set, you may as well bite the bullet.

Two cards that I expect to be big gainers? [card]Hornet Queen[/card] and [card]Doomwake Giant[/card]. Each one is good in part because of the other, and both are in ranges where they could easily see a significant price increase. If [card]Doomwake Giant[/card] hits, expect him to bring [card]Eidolon of Blossoms[/card] with him, since they don’t appear in decks without the other.

hornet queen

I don’t expect to see much new in terms of red deck technology, especially from a financial perspective. Black aggro is probably just a shade worse, but the disruption buys them time, and [card]Master of the Feast[/card] is slowly gaining traction. Look for him to break out at an SCG Open later in the year.

I’ll end with this: the big gainers are going to be out of Born, Journey, or M15. Theros and Khans don’t have the right ingredients to see something shoot up, although the rich (Elspeth, Stormbreath, Temples, other planeswalkers) will likely get richer. The time to buy in on Khans is coming up—if you don’t need it tomorrow, wait until around Christmas. We are already seeing stuff like fetch lands drop. After all, Khans is going to be the most popular set ever.

Best,

Ross

 

About the Author
I've been gaming MtG finance since artifacts were brown. Longtime magic player and TO. Loving husband and father. Cube > Commander.

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