Privileged Perspective 15: Challenging Perspectives

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Confession: I wasn’t 100 percent sold on the name of this column when I started. I liked “Privileged Position,” but I think someone else is already using it. Privileged Perspective sounds like a Magic card name, and maybe some day it will be, but I’m worried the name doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if you haven’t read my first article (you read it, right? Sweet). Well, today we are going to challenge a lot of firmly-held, inaccurate beliefs that Magic players have, and hopefully expand their visions to see the bigger picture. And for the record, the name has grown on me—probably because I really enjoy writing these.

Challenged Perspective #1, “Playtesting”

“You wanna playtest?” How many times do you hear people refer to casual games as “playtesting”? Almost everyone is guilty of it at some point, myself included. The truth of the matter is that there is a big difference between playing a couple casual matches before FNM and legitimate playtesting.

BRIEF SELF-ESTEEM ASIDE: I suspect part of the reason many people say “playtest” is because they want the word “test” to overshadow the word “play,” since most adults feel silly saying, “You wanna go play?”

Here are some guidelines to follow if you want your “playtesting” to actually serve its intended purpose:

  • Play a Ton of Games: Don’t just play a match and consider yourself done. Every game presents a dizzying amount of choices, and you need a high amount of iterations to be able to see consistent flow.
  • Play Mostly Sideboard Games: I watch a lot of fledgling Spikes play a lot of game ones, and then treat sideboarding as an afterthought. The reality is that two-thirds of many matches are sideboarded games, and you need a lot of experience knowing what to bring in and what to bring out.
  • Diversify: If you play a thousand rounds against Sidisi Whip, but nothing else, you will not be ready to waltz into a tournament. If you want to be able to beat the best five decks in a format, find people with those decks and develop a coherent plan against each archetype. This leads us directly into our next point…
  • Take Notes!: This is perhaps the best advice I can ever give someone about Magic. Your brain can only hold so much information at a time. Taking notes relieves you of having to track so many different things, and can be a good place to store oblique interactions that you’ve observed during testing, in case they reappear during your tournament matches.
  • Practice How You’re Going to Play: If you’re watching TV or being otherwise distracted, you’re less likely to absorb quality information. You’re also more likely to keep bad hands. Make the game your primary focus.
  • Understand That It’s Still Practice: Do I allow takebacks in my testing sessions? Absolutely. If a player is on a complex turn, and they play a Swamp instead of a Ghost Quarter, and they think out a line, and decide it’s better to play the Ghost Quarter? Awesome, that’s what this is for. If you don’t help your partner parce out and process their lines, then you aren’t helping them. That said, don’t try and take back something that was more than a turn ago—then nobody is learning. Talk through lines of play with your partner, and discuss possible lines of play, as well as what should and should not be respected in a certain situation (“Do I play around removal or go all-in here?” “Do I Abzan Charm and draw two or kill your Tasigur?”). Sometimes in a game, I like to take a snapshot and replay that turn multiple times (shuffling unknown portions of the deck each time). This is especially useful for combo decks like Storm when they ask, “Can I go off from this situation?”

Ultimately, playtesting is about getting in quality practice reps with a likeminded partner. If they don’t have the same mindset, then understand it’s just play.

Challenged Perspective #2, “Magic Cards as Stocks”

The rise of the MTG financier has created a lot of misconceptions about how Magic finance actually works. Many neophite mages think that a card’s success in a format is the primary driving factor in a card’s value. You’ll see this a lot after events. Let’s look in on a timely example of this: Amulet of Vigor.

amuletofvigor

This first chart begins with the birth of the Modern format (the little E), and details the price history of the card to the present day. Can you guess when the Modern pro tours were?

Now, Amulet of Vigor has some unusual wrinkles to it (chief among them being printed in Worldwake), but it’s a great card for teaching the lessons I want to get to.

After major events, you will often see knee-jerk reactionists claiming that a card that had a strong finish is primed to rise. This was most recently the case with Amulet, coming off of a second-place performance in PT Fate Reforged. If this *were* the stock market, then the positive news would drive price, especially on a commodity with a capped supply (the specter of a reprint is always looming in Modern, but it wouldn’t be until at least this summer). Magic is different because there are contextual elements that impose restrictions—namely that Amulet of Vigor is a one-trick pony. If the card were played (or playable) in multiple archetypes, then both its starting price and trajectory would likely be very different. The Amulet deck is also very difficult to pilot properly, especially over the course of a large event. It also has extremely limited applications in formats like Commander, where you have so many turns that you don’t care if your lands come in tapped (and you dont have sufficient redundancy to abuse it). The spikes you see in those charts are reactions to the deck having success (as well as feature matches); the tapers are reality correcting the price. We are going to loop back to Amulet, because there is a finance concept I want to touch on that Amulet exemplifies, but I want to mention how Standard fits into challenging this perspective.

Unlike the other constructed formats, Standard is comprised almost entirely of sets that are currently (or have just stopped) being printed. The supply is either at its peak or increasing. The reason why cards of equal rarity experience different prices (Outpost Siege versus Tasigur, let’s say) is largely based on predicted, and later experienced, demand. So when someone says, “Hey, this card won SCG Wherever, I bet it’s going to go up!” they really meant, “I love you” “The demand for this card will likely rise!” We could spend all day talking about how Standard finance is wonky, but Marcel pays me the same no matter what, so just know that I don’t really believe in Standard finance. Maybe the next section will help explain why.

So Yeah, That Amulet Deck

So yeah, that Amulet deck. What I wanted to say before is that one thing that the deck has going for it financially is that a lot of the cards have scarcity issues (insomuch as a Modern deck can). Do you know what the most important piece of information on a card is for MTG finance? The set symbol (and its color). Amulet of Vigor has been printed once, in Worldwake, and that’s doing more work for the price of the card than almost winning a PT. Summer Bloom was last seen in Ninth Edition, with its only other printings being Portal and Starter 99 (at rare!), as well as Visions and Sixth Edition (at uncommon). What inferences can you glean from that information?

The first thing that came to my attention when I saw that list was that, despite five printings, there is only one foil version! Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Editions were also those down years where literally nobody wanted Core Set cards or packs—there were no new cards, and they typically sold very poorly (at least Seventh Edition shook things up by having terrible1 art!). That means that we have one foil printing for a key part of the deck from a set nobody ever wanted. In terms of non-foil, only two versions have black borders, Visions and Portal. Each also has different artwork. The Portal artwork is rarer (and the card itself was rare), so those are the most pricey non-foils at roughly $3.25. Visions is in second for about a dollar less, with Sixth and Starter close behind. Ninth copies are about $1.50 because they are new frame, the most populous, and kinda ugly. If we were doing Aesthetically Pleasing Power Rankings, this would be my pick order (excluding foil Ninth from judgment, since the foil would win by default). Summer Bloom also likely sees more Cube, EDH, and casual play than Amulet.

Anyways, I said all that to get to this: Your job when looking for buys or spec targets isn’t too find good cards, it’s to find good situations. Summer Bloom, while only an uncommon, is unlikely to ever see a printing outside of a supplemental product (I could have sworn it was in a Duel Deck). Other good cards from the deck (Simian Spirit Guide, Hive Mind, Serum Visions) are all but assured to be either in Modern Masters 2015 or see some semi-immediate printing. Amulet is somewhere in the middle, high-profile enough to get some demand for another printing (unless people start to call it “The Summer Bloom Deck”), and not too out of line with current design philosophy to forbid it from coming back to Standard (where it would do literally nothing). That puts Summer Bloom in the best situation (or worst, depending on your perspective). Other cards that have their price impacted by their situation include the Worldwake manlands, Sleight of Hand, Sensei’s Divining Top (although Commander has breathed life into that set), Voice of Resurgence, and Noble Hierarch. These aren’t necessarily examples of cards you should run out and buy today, but they are historical presedents of this concept. Be on the lookout for cards with similarly exploitable situations!

Quick Hits

We may revisit this concept in the future, but I thought today’s article went well. I think the kids liked it too, they seemed pretty engaged throughout.

  • Even though they support my arch-nemesis Frank Lepore, I really like the TCGplayer tournament series. I mentioned those point cards last week—there is absolutely nothing better than having guaranteed byes in a tournament that typically doesn’t pull in more than 200 to 250 people. They’re just 5Ks, so they don’t have the same pull as SCG Opens, and they have a guaranteed cash payout. Those point cards are an interesting phenomenon, too! They were considered worthless the first year, but people caught on and now they can command a pretty healthy premium on site (I’ve seen people actually pay $3/point the morning of). Listings on [popular auction site] typically close at about half that much, since the demand is not as strong or constant. If you live in an area where the smaller TCGplayer events run (the best source of points cards), then always target them in trade (I’d do .75-1 per point). They also expire after two years, which is dumb, but worth remembering. Don’t buy old points!
  • Mastery of the Unseen into Whelming Wave is something I will do at FNM this year.
  • I am not even remotely interested in the new From The Vaults. Friend of the program Dr. Jeebus made a good point the other day.

jeebusftv

  • I really like Outpost Siege, as well as the rest of the cycle (to varying degrees). I think the red one is splashable enough that it could see play in multiple decks, if the mana is ever good enough in Standard that you can just do whatever the hell you want.
  • “You have sent 325 cards with a total value of $1,570.65 and you have received 314 cards from other members with a total value of $1,500.06.” This is not including the ~3800 points I have available, or the 3200 that are currently in escrow. Crazy how well this lines up!
  • I’m hoping to do a mailbag article soon, so please leave questions in the comment section (or tweet them or email them or whatever). We can talk about whatever, I guess.

1I actually love Seventh Edition art, but the set has been referred to as “the time comic book artists took over WotC.” I don’t really get it, but I pretend I do. I bet Mike Linneman could tell us all about it.

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Ross Lennon

I've been gaming MtG finance since artifacts were brown.
Longtime magic player and TO.Loving husband and father. Cube > Commander.
Ross Lennon
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1 comment

    • JJ on May 2, 2015 at 6:22 pm
    • Reply

    Hi,

    Thanks for a very informative article.
    I see where you are going with the “situational” card value.

    Having said that. it is clear that Modern Masters 2015 will be bringing the days of affinity / artifacts back.
    Would you recommend then that one makes efforts towards getting on the band wagon and securing Artifact buff spells / creatures?

    Thanks

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