Sometimes it is difficult to get the writing process started, and other times the words flow out as if someone else already did everything for me. There are weeks, like this one, where I have fragments of the piece I wish to assemble, but they are adrift of each other and devoid of interlocking context. For example, I know that I want to talk about my Modern experience from Saturday (it wasn’t great!), as well as touch briefly on a couple of things that have been on my mind over the course of the weekend. Perhaps the best course of action in a time like this is to compose a succinct, introspective introduction and then just get at the issues I want to discuss, continuity be damned.
I am having a difficult time putting my finger on Modern. Unlike its older cousins Legacy and Vintage, Modern feels in some ways like Standard. There are a lot of decks that are focused on developing a board state and casting very strong-but-believable threats like [card]Siege Rhino[/card]. The decks that feel unfair are those like Tron and Affinity—the ones where sometimes their plan comes together so quickly that you instinctively backpedal into survival mode, which is an overwhelmingly losing proposition.
The only deck that feels truly oppressive to me, however, is Burn. It is not the best deck in the format, but it has enough critical redundancies that it is able to execute its plan at a very high consistency. The fact that fetches into shocks make up the bulk of the format’s foundation only makes that plan more viable. I have a lot of written and unpublished pages about burn (from a more comparative historical perspective) saved on this computer, so maybe we’ll have Burn week someday.
The deck I played in the event did not feel overall to be bad. Starting in round two, I mulliganed every opening hand except two for the rest of the tournament (I played three more rounds and left). Some of the mulls were the usual “right amount, wrong color” or “no curve” hands that you teach yourself are unfortunate but happen, and some were the “draw four copies of one card and three of another” hands where you seriously think you are doing something totally wrong. I don’t want to sound superstitious, but I was using a new, unproven brand of sleeves. Maybe they’re defective? Or evil? Maybe I would have won the tournament and the respect of my father if I had just used yellow Dragon Shields? When you comin’ home, Dad? I don’t know when, but we’ll have a good time then. You know we’ll have a good time then.
At the heart of my list is something very powerful, and it’s good enough that I have decided to continue to develop it. [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card], one of my all-time favorite cards, saw some success in Standard alongside [card]Lightning Mauler[/card]. Two mana for four damage across two bodies is an incredible rate, especially in a format where most removal is in the form of [card]Abrupt Decay[/card]. However, the deck has now added a third element to that synergy in [card]Jund Hackblade[/card]—worse in terms of overall damage output by one a turn, but better overall than any other creature on the curve. While it may ultimately be cut, [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] was an excellent second source of turning on Hackblade, allowing for an impressive five damage on turn two. [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card] was also a crucial element, and I will be gaming with four of them every time. The rest of the deck, however, will need an inspection. Here is the core of what I believe to be a workable archetype:
[Deck title=Gruul Shell]
*4 Rakdos Cackler
*4 Burning-Tree Emissary
*4 Jund Hackblade
*4 Lightning Mauler
*4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
*4 Lightning Bolt
If you have any thoughts, let me know. The existence of Rampager pulls us toward red/green, but Naya and Jund are both valid options.
Author’s Disclaimer: We are not going to come close to finishing what I want to say here, so be prepared to have this topic spill over into future articles.
I feel like a lot of people are trying to make money by seeing the future. The problem with this, of course, is that it is impossible. I’m not sure if I have ever really expressed my thoughts on speculating or buy-outs, but I am typically against them. Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t speculate at all, it just means that I have a very conservative approach to buying what are essentially card futures. When I do plan to move in on something, I consider the following.
“Where is it at now?” Many of the cards I move in on are, at the time of the buy, between bulk price and $3 (the typical cost of an in-print booster pack).
When you get a card at the floor price, you don’t have to wait for it to hit the ceiling to be able to get a return. It may mean leaving a percentage on the table, but that is just the tax you pay for not having to sell a card at its ceiling to make a gain. You are also tying up less of your Magic capital (assuming you have a limited amount to spend on Magic at any particular time, or have insulated your Magic spending in any other way). This gives you the ability to wait longer on a card, which is a check against doing something you will regret later. To guarantee getting in on the floor of newer cards, I advise waiting until about December or January for large fall sets, and one or two months post-release for small sets. Typically Game Day is the earliest for small sets.
BRIEF MISTAKE ASIDE: Remember Overextended? That was the proto-format that existed during the lead-up to Modern. Anyways, there was serious hype for a format to bridge the gap between Legacy and Standard that wasn’t Extended, but Wizards stayed pretty quiet on the situation until the announced creation of Modern. In the months before their announcement, Overextended (a Gavin Verhey joint) took off as a possibility, and savvy traders slowly started to move in on staples. It was during this point that I moved in on Ravnica shocklands (then hovering around $7 to $10, depending on colors and condition). I made a big move on them early, but WOTC’s continual silence on the format made me anxious—I had a lot of my eggs in this basket! At GP Providence, I was able to out them for just over cost to a smaller vendor. Not much later was the announcement of Modern, along with a huge spike on the lands. Yes, this story (which, gosh, I really ramble, don’t I?) could also be about staying disciplined to a buy, but it’s also about not tying up too much at once. I could have gotten involved in a lot of other options during that time that my money was essentially frozen in shocklands, but I was lucky to break just north of even.
That $3 I mentioned earlier? That cap is more in place for foils, although I will move on things that are floating in the $3 range if I think they are relatively safe in the long term. The overall understanding of foil pricing is very off in my opinion, but my rule of thumb for a foil rare or mythic spec is this: “Is it less than the pack it comes in?” If it is, then it is most certainly a good candidate for a target. My most recent target was [card]Rune-Scarred Demon[/card], which I bought aggressively under $3, and was able to out for a little over $4 each at GPNJ. I didn’t realize going into it that the card was also a precon foil, which is likely what kept it from going to $10 in the years since printing.
But how do you know if you have a good target? Certainly playability is a factor, but that means different things to different people. A card may even be very good in a particular deck or style of deck, but be a bad speculation target.
BRIEF PREDICTIVE ASIDE: I don’t think there will be a good Dredge deck at the Pro Tour. A “true” Dredge list would need at least Dread Return to be considered viable, and that ain’t happening this week (or ever, hopefully). The lists that do exist are incredibly fragile and unable to operate outside of their single axis. I know Magus of the Bazaar has been popular lately, but I don’t suspect it will be hoisting a trophy come Sunday. If anything, we will see a Vengevine deck that gets extra press going into day two.
Playability is, as I mentioned, extremely subjective. Prior to the EDH boom, casual and multiplayer decks were often built around things like Underworld Dreams, a card that has always traded well to casual mages, but I would never deign to call “playable.” Rather, I prefer to look for “uniqueness,” or at least scarcity in terms of ability. [card]Caged Sun[/card], a card I have been well-stocked on for a while1, is one of only a handful of cards that rewards you for playing a mono-color deck, and fits firmly in the Commander philosophy. A card that I went deep in on last year was [card]Dictate of Karametra[/card]—it’s not unique, but it is certainly in rare company. So far there hasn’t been growth, but I got in so low on them, that I am neither rushed to out them, nor do I have much to lose.
BRIEF MUSING ASIDE: You know this game is getting huge, right? You and I may have decades of cards memorized, but newer and casual players still rely heavily on things like Gatherer and friends to learn about new cards for their decks. Until the Orzhov introduce SEO for Gatherer cards (which they will charge the other guilds for what they feel are very fair prices!), visibility is going to favor some cards much more than others. This is another big reason to target something that is at least semi-unique. It may buoy bottoms a little bit, but the upside is better.
We are gonna wrap for today, but when we come back next week, we are going to talk about losing, in all facets of Magic, and how to not do it as much.
VERY QUICK HITS FEATURING BONUS DECKLIST!
[Deck title=Jund Graveyardigans]
*4 Elvish Mystic
*4 Satyr Wayfinder
*4 Sultai Emissary
*2 Tymaret, the Murder King
*4 Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
*1 Mogis’s Marauder
*4 Undergrowth Scavenger
*4 Commune With The Gods
*4 Grave Strength
*3 Tormenting Voice
*4 Bloodstained Mire
*4 Llanowar Wastes
*2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
*3 Wooded Foothills
- This deck is extremely raw. But who cares? I’m playing it at FNM tonight anyways! And in case you didn’t realize, Alesha can grab Undergrowth Scavenger and Nighthowler (their P/T are 0/0 in the graveyard, which is less than 2/X), and the Mogis’s Marauder number may go up since she can grab it too (it will be too late for haste, but the intimidate will still get in before blockers are declared).
- [card]Rest in Peace[/card] is probably one of my favorite long-term holds. They are very slowly creeping up, but I certainly think their floor as a multi-format staple is somewhere between $1 and $1.50. If player population continues to push print-run size, then this will start to trend upward at a higher clip.
- Speaking of Rest in Peace, this is the best example (see below) I can give you for a card to trade for and stash away. A lot of people complain that finance people aren’t straightforward enough, but read my lips: “TRADE FOR THESE AND TUCK THEM AWAY”.
- I try my best every week, but next week’s topic has been rattling around since the beginning. Be here.
1Damn you, black Commander 2014 deck!