Privileged Perspective 8b: Packs

This is the article that was supposed to go up last week, but due to assorted delays, didn’t. Sadly, the biggest loser in this case was the time-sensitive information I had touched on up front—the Walgreen’s booster sale that happens every year on the week after Black Friday. If you aren’t familiar, the premise is simple: booster packs were buy one, get one free (“BOGO” from here on out), with no limit. Walgreen’s doesn’t carry a deep stock of packs, so the “no limit” part can be a bit deceptive, and not every store I went to had Khans packs. The crazy part is that this sale puts the packs individually below wholesale, so if you’re able to buy enough, it can be a great opportunity to stock up.

The downside to going deep on Khans packs right now? That set is about to hit its bottom. That’s right, this is that mythical time of year that newer finance people are always asking about: “When should I buy in?” The best answer is this month, probably in about a week or two, but you won’t lose anything significant moving in now. Khans rares are at their all-time low right now, with the possible exception of the blue fetchlands and possibly [card]Windswept Heath[/card]. Those may dip down a little more after Christmas, but if they don’t, go ahead and move in. I bought all the fetchlands I was missing last week, with the exception of Windswept Heaths, because green-white decks are dumb and I am cool.

windsweptheath

BRIEF EXTENDED ASIDE: These fetches have the rare honor of being known quantities in literally every format on Earth and reprinted1 for the first time in over a decade. They will follow a trajectory similar to the Return to Ravnica shocklands, in that I expect them to maintain a somewhat artificial inflation, at best hovering around $10 for the majority of their life cycle. Most players will realistically aim to get a personal set of all five, and conservative or kiddie pool investors will target them in trade as safe long-term holds. Every aspiring financier will tell you how they went deep on shocklands, and that steady demand really kept their price stable, especially during the run-up to rotation that I expect will kill the Temples. Modern and Legacy beginners will want access to sets, especially as a short-term replacement for the currently much higher Zendikar fetches. Wooded Foothills does a decent enough impersonation of Misty Rainforest that most people would rather save the $40 difference. If you think you’re the type of person who is going to become an overnight hundredaire or thousandaire buying all the fetches, know that they won’t ever take off percentage-wise like the Zen ones did, and that it will likely be two years before you can move them for a worthwhile gain. I’ve already begun outing some of my excess sets of shocklands because I don’t like having that much of my Magic money tied up in dead weight.

Yes, We’re Talking About Packs Today

Packs are a kind of an interesting topic to discuss. Typically, one of the early signs of becoming a “good” Magic player is when one stops cracking all one’s packs, either in the interest of having lots of available draft sets, or just being able to brag that you are one of those guys who doesn’t open his packs. If you live in a place where drafts fire often, then this has measurable practicality—I drafted up to six nights a week in my college years, and having spare sets made it a lot easier. Sealed packs also maintain their value independent of ownership: as long as they aren’t open, you can pretty easily get $9 or $10 for a draft set anywhere in the world. If you don’t draft or have the exposure to easily sell your packs, though, you may as well open them.

Magic casts a pretty wide net these days, and it is really interesting to see how the swaths of new players treat things that have, to people like me, have become akin to muscle memory. The store I play at gets a lot of these new players, as well as what Mark Rosewater and company would call “casual players.” There has developed, strangely, an almost folk wisdom regarding opening booster packs, cultivated by a jovial store owner who has no problem encouraging people to open “just one more.” Opening packs and boxes is a thing in the sports cards community, primarily because it is one of the only things you can do with sports cards (sick burn), and I feel like some of that mentality has bled into my local Magic environment. Here are just a few things I’ve learned from them:

  • Always open the top left pack, and the one right below it. That’s typically where the foil rare is.
  • Always go for the very middle of the box. That’s typically where the foil rare is.
  • With M10, only open packs with [card]Captain of the Watch[/card] on them. Those have the best rares. I’ve heard more stories of which art work has the “best” packs, but the Captain of the Watch one has always stuck with me for some reason.
  • Always go for the bottom right of a box. That’s typically where the foil rare is.
  • Boosters from Fat Packs are better than packs out of boxes. You’ll get better rares from them.
  • Always feel the weight and thickness of the boosters. The thickest and heaviest ones have foils in them, and you can tell the difference.
  • Never leave one last pack in the box.

The last one is my favorite, and I’ll tell you a story why. Friend of the program and former Naya human Joe Herrera had built up a small amount of credit at our old game store, somewhere around 25 to 30 packs worth. He decided to “cash in,” taking packs of Worldwake, the newest set at the time. Anyways, he has just enough credit to take all but one pack from the open box behind the counter. The store owner asks him if he wants to buy it, he declines. The store owner (Roger) asks Joe if he’s sure, since the store is going to open it otherwise. Again, Joe declines, thereby breaking the above cardinal rule. Sure enough, Roger opened the Jace, and Joe’s heart sank. He immediately tried to return the packs.

joetms

I don’t advocate any of the “flip it or rip it” games, but I do advocate all forms of Pack Wars. There are two primary forms: the MTG finance version and the one where you actually play Magic.

The first type of Pack Wars is the one that you see in the sports cards community. Every participant opens a pack (they should all be the same set), and the player with the highest price rare or mythic wins all of the opened packs. Some people don’t include the foil, but I think you should—it’s painful to open a foil [card]Polluted Delta[/card] and lose it because your [card]Temur Ascendancy[/card] didn’t beat their [card]Mantis Rider[/card]. This is also the form of Pack Wars that you can play with non-Magic players who are also compulsive gamblers.

The second type of Pack Wars is the one most commonly known to Magic players, although there is no codified set of rules. I’m here to fix that, by publishing the well-circulated Florida Rules that have been in place here in the Sunshine State for the last several years.

  • Each player opens one booster pack and removes the basic land and token without looking at any of the other cards (inasmuch as possible). Hint: usually the top two cards facing down are the land and the token, although this isn’t always the case.
  • Turn order can be determined any way you choose, although traditionally it will be whoever got the better (or cooler looking) token goes first. Subsequent matches will have turn order determined by the loser. You always want to go first.
  • You start with no cards in hand. You draw one card a turn. You can cast one card a turn, and X can be anything you want. Some people say X can only be a maximum of 5 when targeting players (Blaze becomes Lava Axe, not Door to Nothingness), but that’s lame.
  • You get one free “Cycle” per turn, so if you draw a crappy card (or a non-basic land, which is often useless), you can discard it and draw a new card for free. You can do this on your opponent’s turn as well, but only once.
  • Once per game, you can declare “Desperation Mode.” This allows you to cycle as many times as you want on the turn you declare it. The implication is that you are looking for your out, because otherwise you are about to die. You should never declare Desperation Mode while you are winning the game, as it goes against the robust spirit of the game.
  • Depending on who you are playing with, the winner will get both packs.
  • Yes, you can Kick Sadistic Sacrament in Pack Wars, and yes, it is a beating.

sadisticsac

I strongly encourage you to play more Pack Wars, both varieties.

Extended is Still a Thing (Sort Of)

Speaking of packs, I gave away some sweet packs in the Extended tournament I ran last Saturday! If you were following my coverage of the event online, then you know already that while the event was small, it was well-received. We currently have more people wanting to preregister for the next tournament than participated in the last one. I won’t go through round by round coverage, but I will through out some quick hits, as well as my decklist from the event. Then we will close with a couple of quick finance bits.

  • There was one guy playing RDW in the event, and I have to imagine that had he played one or two more lands, he would have taken the entire thing down. He did around 13 damage (enough to kill me) to me on turn four. That’s insane.
  • [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] and fetchlands are really good. So much so that I don’t think Shaman will ever see Modern play again. That being said, it is probably a really good long-term hold, especially at around $8 in trade.
  • The first website to put [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s on sale is going to sell me a playset. The card is good, especially with [card]Thragtusk[/card] and [card]Siege Rhino[/card].
  • The deck that I expected to have a better performance was Elves! I don’t know if the deck was just a little too slow, or if there were sequencing or construction issues, but it was the 2014 New Orleans Saints of the weekend: hyped coming in, but failed to beat Cam Newton at home.
  • Everyone who played the format had fun, and everyone who came to watch remarked that they wanted to play in the next one. If you’re looking to flex your brewer muscles, evaluating unexplored formats is a great way to build your skills. Trying to crack an admittedly useless format (for now…) won’t win you a PTQ, but it will help you develop some of the skills that make you better at Magic. Plus, it’s fun!

Here’s what I played:

[deck title= Experiment Jund Rides Again]
[Creatures]
*4 Experiment One

*3 Bloodsoaked Champion

*4 Burning-Tree Emissary

*4 Gorehouse Chainwalker

*4 Flinthoof Boar

*3 Lightning Mauler

*3 Ghor-Clan Rampager

*4 Falkenrath Aristocrat

[/Creatures]
[Spells]

*3 Lightning Strike

*3 Abrupt Decay

*2 Dreadbore
[/Spells]
[Land]

*1 Kessig Wolf Run

*4 Bloodstained Mire

*4 Wooded Foothills

*2 Blood Crypt

*2 Overgrown Tomb

*2 Stomping Ground

*2 Mountain

*1 Forest

*1 Swamp

*1 Dragonskull Summit

*1 Woodland Cemetery

*2 Rootbound Crag
[/Land]

[Sideboard]

*3 Thoughtseize

*3 Liliana of the Veil

*3 Lifebane Zombie

*3 Deathrite Shaman

*3 Firefist Striker

[/Sideboard]

[/deck]

The only thing I would change is I would cut the Strikers from the sideboard (they never came in). This deck felt so consistent and aggressive that I plan on trying out a modified version of it in my next Modern tournament. [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] and [card]Bloodsoaked Champion[/card] happened enough that I’m fine letting [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] hit free agency. In Modern, the Deathrite Shamans will become [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card]s. Liliana was unreal good and might belong in the main deck, although there aren’t any ways to truly abuse her, 

MTG Finance Quick Hits

  • Remember when I mentioned Restoration Angel, Thragtusk, and Siege Rhino? Of course you do, quit playing dumb. All three of those feel like they either are, or will be, at their cheapest this month. Buy the last two now, and Restoration Angel when it goes on sale. Thragtusk is more of a speculative buy, but Siege Rhino is going to do a lot of work soon, and this is its floor for the next two years.
  • [card]See the Unwritten[/card] is the card I expect to break out. It’s not in a deck yet, but when it is, it’s going to be a See the Unwritten deck. This is in contrast to something like [card]Empty the Pits[/card], which will just be a one- or two-of in a control list. Get literally every See the Unwritten at $2 in trade that you can.
  • A guy at my FNM played an end-of-turn [card]Dictate of Karametra[/card] into [card]Villainous Wealth[/card]. Not sure either of those cards will ever get far outside of the bulk zone while in Standard, but both are attractive Commander foils.
  • [card]Savage Knuckleblade[/card] is the kind of card that people really like, but I’ve learned not to be too afraid of it when it gets played against me. It’s possible that this is the kind of card that requires a higher level of skill and familiarity to maximize (like how Pack Rat really cost five), but it’s popular with the FNM crowd regardless. It may be worthwhile to buy a couple extra sets now at the bottom, just to know you’ll have copies in your binder for the next year and a half.
  • SCG has [card]Utter End[/card]s for $1.35. That’s almost three for the price of a booster pack. Obviously “[card]Vindicate[/card]’s Less Handsome Cousin” isn’t the best a card can be, but it’s probably the best that a $1.35 card can be.
  • [card]Whip of Erebos[/card] has been sneaking up in price, so try and get your set now before it settles in for its senior year of Standard. Sidisi is crucial to that deck’s success, and she’s only $3. [card]Soul of Innistrad[/card] is really good in the list, but I’m not sure if most lists want four. Most of the key pieces to that deck rotate in the fall, so watch to see if there are any graveyard enablers in Fate Reforged (previews start in two weeks!).
  • I’ve picked up mono-black aggro in Standard, and it’s dumb and I hate it.

Next week will be that big article I was supposed to run a couple weeks back, I promise. Unless it isn’t. But it should be! I think.

Best,

Ross

1No, Judge Foils, you don’t count.

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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