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By: one million words, Pete Jahn
Jan 29 2008 11:46am
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Making Bad Rares Good
 
Right now, prices for old, not-tier-one cards are coming down rapidly. That’s nice for players who need them – the problem is that too few people need them. Dealers, especially those with large inventories, are taking some serious losses. That can be a problem: constructed Magic only flourishes because dealers make acquiring cards possible. 
 
Seriously, have you ever tried building a deck with just the cards you can get drafting, or drafting plus some casual trading. I have, and wrote about my experiences over on StarCityGames.com. It was not pretty.
 
Simply put, you need dealers to make constructed formats possible. This is very true in the paper world, at all levels. I have seen – and been one of – the players hitting dealers for cards before Friday Night Magic starts, before Pro Tour Qualifiers, before Pro Tours and even before events like the World Championships. No player owns every card they might play (okay, except for a very few Vintage players, but that’s a different world.) Dealers make the cards available.
 
Dealers exist if – and only if - they can make a profit.
 
Declining card prices make that profit very difficult.   It may make us buyers happy, but it does hurt the dealers.  The question, then, is whether anything can make these cards worth anything again. What can make people want to buy them?
 
Actually, the question is a bit more complex than that. A few people want to buy them – a very few. That’s not the whole of the problem. The other half of the problem is that too many people want to sell them, and the can do so too easily.
 
I have this nifty paper that says I can do economics. I try and avoid that, since economics is quite correctly called “the dismal science.” True. Once you do a cost benefit analysis on obtaining economics degrees, you feel pretty dismal. On the plus side, being able to lecture on economics means that you can cure insomnia in others.
 
Good night, folks.
 
Basic economics: supply and demand curves, market forces pushing prices towards the intersection of those curves, etc. 
 
In the bricks and mortar world, the price of goods has to include a lot of overheads: rent, storage, taxes, locating buyers (market research, pricing, advertising, etc.), shipping, and on and on. All of these factors, plus the initial cost of the good itself, increase the price. These factors are barriers to efficient transactions, and generally costs limit entry in various markets. 
 
This is why, for example, if a gas station sells gas for $0.03 more than most other stations, another gas station does not instantly appear across the street to undersell it. You cannot build a gas station instantly, and once you have built it, you can liquidate that investment instantly, either, if you are not making enough money. The result is that competition is somewhat limited, in the short run.
 
In the online world, many of these factors are reduced. In MTGO, due to the proliferation of bots, many are totally eliminated. Cards are, basically, marketed and stored by Wizards, and the bots make all other transactions costs almost non-existent. Simply put, anyone can get and run a bot cheaply and easily. This results in a lot of sellers.
 
A serious seller – one who intends to remain in the market for a long time, and offer services customers desire, has to put in some effort. That includes obtaining and managing inventory, researching the market and studying market trends and so on. All of that requires effort, which equates to costs. Those costs have to be recovered through the prices charged by those dealers.
 
The average player, on the other hand, has no such costs. If all the player really wants to do is turn their draft leavings into TIX, they can just run a bot, and set the prices low. They have no particular interest in long term sales, or in making enough profit to stay in business. They just want to make enough to keep drafting. Their primary concern is to set their prices low enough that their cards sell. 
 
All of this pushes prices down. Great if you are buying, less so if you want to make a living (or at least a profit) selling. 
 
Of course, the main reason that prices are falling on a lot of these cards is that the cards are just not that good. I’ve written about this before, but the simple fact is that, in any given format, only a small percentage of the cards are actually good enough to see play. The bigger the card pool, the smaller the percentage.  Remember this table?
 

Format
Cards Played
Cards in Format
Percent Seeing Play
TS Block
125
747
16.73%
Standard
205
1539
13.32%
Extended
183
5450
3.36%
Vintage
144
9100
1.582%

 
Yes, we can all quibble about the numbers – about whether certain Tier 1.5 decks are good enough to include, and whether that would make the numbers higher. In fact, since I created that table long before the current Extended PTQs, I would be willing to concede that there may be a hundred more playable cards in that format. That would mean that 5%, or one in twenty format legal cards, that sees play.
 
In other words, nineteen in twenty cards do not.
 
This is true for a number of reasons.
 
First, of course, a lot of cards are printed for draft and sealed purposes. Pretty much every 2/2 flier for four mana, or 3/3 ground pounder for five mana is limited chaff.   We are talking cards like Aven Fisher and Kavu Climber. Now someone will think of some random constructed deck, somewhere, that used one of those and scream about it in the forums. Whatever. This stuff is filler.
 
More importantly, Wizards has been gradually increasing the quality of cards over time. Let’s look back at what creatures were once considered really good.
 

Kird Ape
Serra Angel
Juggernaut

 
Seriously – these were once good creatures. So good, in fact, that Kird Ape and big Jugs were both banned for a while.   Serra Angel, on the other hand, was the main creature in the first big Vintage Archetype, which was instead called “The Deck.” 
 
Not so good anymore. After Urza’s Saga appeared, this was considered the best creature:
  
Morphling was pretty much the last 4+ mana creature – for which people actually paid full mana costs, unlike Exalted Angel or Myr Enforcer – that saw play in Extended. Morphling is just not much good anymore. It has been eclipsed. Nowadays, I can’t even find room for Morphling in my EDH or Prismatic Highlander decks.
 
From 2003 to 2005, or so, the best creature in Magic was Dr. Teeth. This guy:
 
Psychatog
 
Today, the best creature is this guy:
 
Tarmogoyf
 
The older, once great creatures have little value now. Cards like Wild Mongrel and Flametongue Kavu are not really playable in Extended or Classic at the moment – at best, they can find homes in prismatic beatdown decks.   The number of people building decks for that format, however, is very small.  The end result is that these old cards are of value to very few people, which means that market forces will push thier prices down. 
 
The same sort of evolution has happened with other types of cards. Here’s a simple example. The card on the left was restricted in paper Vintage for years and years. Now it is being reprinted in Morningtide (the next set, due online sometime next month.)
 
Magic: The Gathering Magic: The Gathering
 
 
True, you can no longer deck your opponent with this card, but it still represents just how significant a change has occurred. 
 
Let’s look at what holds it’s value.
 
 Magic: The Gathering
 
This is one of the original dual lands. They will be out in MED II, I believe, and are the gold standard in lands. Years ago, the dual lands rotated out of the paper Extended format. Shortly before that happened, I wrote an article called “Quit Worrying and Just Buy the Duals.” I argued that they would never lose value – and they haven’t. Dual lands were $5-$10 when I wrote that. A heavily-played, beat to pieces copy of the cheapest Underground Sea runs $30-$40 now.
 
The Ravnica block duals will be similar. They have dropped in price right now, because you only need a very few of each in the current Extended format. That format is all about using fetchlands (like Polluted Delta) to fetch the duals you need. However, the fetchlands will rotate out of Extended next year, and people will once again have to build their mana bases honestly, without ubiquitous land tutors. That means that they will be playing the Ravnica duals – in fours – in any multicolored decks. Look for the prices to spike once again next fall, and this is probably a good time to get playsets. They will never be this cheap again. 
 
But I digress. I wasn’t intending to talk about the good cards. We know how to sell those. I was talking about everything else: the marginal or bad cards. How do you sell those?
 
The simple answer is that you have to find a way to make them valuable – and playable. One option would be to make them win matches in existing formats – but at that point the prices of those cards would rise automatically. The other option would be to create formats in which they could be played successfully. 
 
Heath wrote about a junk rare draft format. Check out his article here. That idea is interesting, but I would rather see a constructed format. Far more people are willing to buy singles for a constructed format, and the primary goal is to create a market for these marginal cards. That means constructed.
 
Pauper magic is a possibility – but pauper magic, by definition, only drives the sales of commons. We want people to want to buy rares and uncommons.
 
Ideally, we would want a constructed format with a rule that any card trading for more than, say, ¾ of a TIX is banned.   You can play anything – except expensive cards.       
 
Inexpensive does not mean that the decks have to be boring or pure beatdown. For example, here’s a cheap combo Enchantress deck: 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
This is untuned. The card count is too high, but it could still really benefit from something like a Budoka Gardener that could let you play extra lands. Trade Routes will let you get rid of lands to draw cards, but it is not perfect. I’m also not sure if Ghostly Prison and Faith’s Fetters are enough to slow down opponents. That would need testing against the metagame, which would require there to be a metagame. Once the metagame begins to form, you would have to cut this down to 60 cards.
 
 The deck has a couple primary kills. First, it can drop a couple Genjus and beat down. This can be easily accomplished because, with Words of Wind, some cheap enchantments and a few Enchantress effects, it is quite easy to make your opponent pick up all of their permanents. (Note: I once played a deck like this in multiplayer.   I made everyone pick up all their permanents, used Prosperity to give everyone another 20 cards, then cast Megrim and passed the turn.) 
 
Here’s a simple example of the Words of Wind lock. Assume I have Words of Wind in play, along with a couple lands, a Wild Growth and a pair of Enchantresses. I cast an enchantment. I tap the land with Wild Growth in response, then replace both draws with the Words of Wind ability. All players return two cards to hand. I return the Wild Growth to hand first, then the land. I play the land. I player the Wild Growth. That triggers two more draws – although the draws happen before Wild Growth resolves, so you cannot bounce that Wild Growth. Still, having played a lot of Enchantress decks over the years, I can say, with some certainty, that it is easy to get rid of all of your opponents’ permanents fairly quickly. 
 
Once the opponent’s permanents are gone, you can beat down with Genjus, etc.
 
The deck’s second trick is to create an infinite mana engine. Simply enchant a land with Fertile Growth or Dawn’s Reflection, animate it via Nature’s Revolt, Living Terrain or a Genju, then enchant it with Freed from the Real. Tap the land for two or more mana – one blue – then use Freed to untap it. Rinse and repeat until you have a pazillion mana in your pool, then do whatever you want to win. Blaze, Braingeyser (to deck your opponent), Flamewave Invoker, etc. Braingeyser is too expensive, at the moment, but you can use Prosperity for far too many cards, then replace enough of you own draws with Words of Wind (or maybe find room for Words of Worship)?) to avoid decking yourself.
 
Is this perfect? Hardly. I tried to make a fairly interesting and flexible deck with inexpensive cards.   I think your could tune the deck a bit more towards the combo, if you wanted. Something like this, maybe?
 
 
 
 
 
7 Island
2 Swamp
1 Forest
 
This version animates a Ravnica bounce land with a Spellbomb, enchants it with Freed from the Real to generate infinite mana, then casts Read the Runes for you deck, finding the Blaze or Braingeyser to kill the opponent. It is more focused, but not as much fun as the Enchantress version.
 
The point of this is that new decks could be built around different cards, if a format allowed them to be competitive. We tried this sort of format in paper, and it does generate a lot of interesting decks. The difficulty is enforcing the restrictions on which the format depends. In paper, when we played once a week and built new decks often, we could use a common pricing standard – either Scrye Magazine or StarCity Games.   We also all knew each other, so enforcing rules like this was easier.
 
Online, everyone is anonymous, and people keep abusing formats and rooms to win. All those people that bring tournament-caliber netdecks into the casual and new players rooms are going to abuse such a format. It is possible that such a format could be created and enforced casually, like pauper, but I would foresee more arguing over whether a card is or is not legal. Ideally, the marketplace in v3 would be able to track sell prices and provide recent averages automatically, but that may be wishful thinking. (It would also have a lot of implications for trading and selling which I won’t get into here.)
 
The one advantage of a low-price format like this would be that, if a deck became overpowered, the price of the critical cards would probably rise, automatically making the deck illegal. 
 
Another change that might really help sell some of these old cards would be to raise the number of cards that can be traded in a single transaction from 32 to 60 – or maybe 75. That would let dealers create, and sell, entire decks in a single transaction. Wizards knows that precons can sell – this would let dealers create the equivalent of precons for a budget format.  Sure, it could also be used to sell netdecks, but since high end netdecks would be expensive, and since many players would already have many of the critical cards (like lands) for a netdeck, such sales would be unlikely.   For budget cards – and especially budget decks built around synergies between low-cost rares – being able to sell entire decks might be very good for both the players in the format and the dealers. 
 
Once v3 is up, stable and working, the number of players should increase. That should create a much larger market for both old and new cards. Until then, however, dealers will be having a tough time. Hopefully, Wizards will take some steps – like budget formats to drive demand for marginal rares - that might help them out.
 
PRJ
 
“one million words” on MTGO
 

0 Comments

by runeliger at Thu, 01/31/2008 - 20:24
runeliger's picture

funny catch. If they are reprinted in 11th, they'll still go up in value haha.  

Shocklands by Anonymous (Unregistered) 24.58.199.5 (not verified) at Thu, 01/31/2008 - 11:41
Anonymous (Unregistered) 24.58.199.5's picture

Your advice of 'buy buy buy' shocklands NOW neglects that they are eligible for reprinting in 11th edition.  Unlike the orignal duals, not eligible for reprinting on the reserved list, shocklands can return.  I don't want to spend a bunch of money on shocklands, only to see them reprinted later (and falling in price).

I agree through that. by el diablO (Unregistered) 58.69.97.154 (not verified) at Wed, 01/30/2008 - 12:41
el diablO (Unregistered) 58.69.97.154's picture

unknown cards expands the challenges,using unfamiliar bombs and threats to shred your opponent,its a tough one rarely few have the ability to use those kind.A great player always win without those power cards.

by JMason (Unregistered) 82.68.199.238 (not verified) at Wed, 01/30/2008 - 10:33
JMason (Unregistered) 82.68.199.238's picture

This isn't really going to work.

Some rares really are irredeemable. Do you need 4x Goblin King from each set it was ever printed in? No. The same fate applies to every rare with reprints, including the playable cards.

Even with cards that are never reprinted, I personally can only cope with a few current competitive decks at once. It's not cost that limits me, it's time and energy. I'm seriously never going to want to buy every rare from even one set on the premise that I might somehow make time to use them.

So that's human nature and the supply mechanism both working against demand and residual value. I think the collectaholics are going to have to settle for collections as an end in themselves, and accept that 90% of it will never have any monetary value.

Sorry by Sambfwin at Tue, 01/29/2008 - 21:33
Sambfwin's picture

kept giving me errors

Lastly.. by Sambfwin at Tue, 01/29/2008 - 21:55
Sambfwin's picture

Dealers need a way to short the market, hedge their inventory risk so to speak.

MODO Card Values by Sambfwin at Tue, 01/29/2008 - 21:32
Sambfwin's picture

I think Wizard's business model is flawed. VERY few can support a competitive online and a physical collection (much less, even one of the two). This means that I and others like me have to choose, and it makes no sense to choose online over physical unless you live a long way away from any Magic community. If you plan to go anywhere up the competitive latter, you're going to have to get the physical set (although I'm sure pros will say you need both).

 Since I can't get both sets, and I'm not a professional, I have to think of the long term value of my investment. Now, IF Wizards were to lower the price of a physical pack to $1, and drop the "gold-standard", and vigorously support the online tournament scene, I would probably not play in real life much at all. I would probably spend more on Magic. 

 The "Virtual Simulation of the Real Life Experience" model just doesn't work. You still need to have monetary incentive/cost or you'll end up with a crappy scene like the old E-League. 

 I think one reason why there's so much supply is because of players like me. I play online from time to time spending about 50-100$ per month buying packs and tix and playing in drafts. I slowly build up sets, using /auction to sell my excess and buying 15-25 cent filler rares from bots with the proceeds. The aim is that my phyical long-term value from redeemed sets should sort of offset the ridicuolous amount of $$$ (relatively) I spent playing online.  Then I end up with random uselessness like 6 Tidal Krakens which stay in the online.

 

1. Take away the gold standard

2. Lower the price of an online pack

3. Support the online tournament scene to a much greater extent (online grand prixs, mega-rare prize avatars, Power 9 Challenge, quirky format tourneys, random Chaos drafts, etc. etc. etc..

 

Better business model! 

MODO Card Values by Sambfwin at Tue, 01/29/2008 - 21:32
Sambfwin's picture

I think Wizard's business model is flawed. VERY few can support a competitive online and a physical collection (much less, even one of the two). This means that I and others like me have to choose, and it makes no sense to choose online over physical unless you live a long way away from any Magic community. If you plan to go anywhere up the competitive latter, you're going to have to get the physical set (although I'm sure pros will say you need both).

 Since I can't get both sets, and I'm not a professional, I have to think of the long term value of my investment. Now, IF Wizards were to lower the price of a physical pack to $1, and drop the "gold-standard", and vigorously support the online tournament scene, I would probably not play in real life much at all. I would probably spend more on Magic. 

 The "Virtual Simulation of the Real Life Experience" model just doesn't work. You still need to have monetary incentive/cost or you'll end up with a crappy scene like the old E-League. 

 I think one reason why there's so much supply is because of players like me. I play online from time to time spending about 50-100$ per month buying packs and tix and playing in drafts. I slowly build up sets, using /auction to sell my excess and buying 15-25 cent filler rares from bots with the proceeds. The aim is that my phyical long-term value from redeemed sets should sort of offset the ridicuolous amount of $$$ (relatively) I spent playing online.  Then I end up with random uselessness like 6 Tidal Krakens which stay in the online.

 

1. Take away the gold standard

2. Lower the price of an online pack

3. Support the online tournament scene to a much greater extent (online grand prixs, mega-rare prize avatars, Power 9 Challenge, quirky format tourneys, random Chaos drafts, etc. etc. etc..

 

Better business model! 

MODO Card Values by Sambfwin at Tue, 01/29/2008 - 21:31
Sambfwin's picture

I think Wizard's business model is flawed. VERY few can support a competitive online and a physical collection (much less, even one of the two). This means that I and others like me have to choose, and it makes no sense to choose online over physical unless you live a long way away from any Magic community. If you plan to go anywhere up the competitive latter, you're going to have to get the physical set (although I'm sure pros will say you need both).

 Since I can't get both sets, and I'm not a professional, I have to think of the long term value of my investment. Now, IF Wizards were to lower the price of a physical pack to $1, and drop the "gold-standard", and vigorously support the online tournament scene, I would probably not play in real life much at all. I would probably spend more on Magic. 

 The "Virtual Simulation of the Real Life Experience" model just doesn't work. You still need to have monetary incentive/cost or you'll end up with a crappy scene like the old E-League. 

 I think one reason why there's so much supply is because of players like me. I play online from time to time spending about 50-100$ per month buying packs and tix and playing in drafts. I slowly build up sets, using /auction to sell my excess and buying 15-25 cent filler rares from bots with the proceeds. The aim is that my phyical long-term value from redeemed sets should sort of offset the ridicuolous amount of $$$ (relatively) I spent playing online.  Then I end up with random uselessness like 6 Tidal Krakens which stay in the online.

 

1. Take away the gold standard

2. Lower the price of an online pack

3. Support the online tournament scene to a much greater extent (online grand prixs, mega-rare prize avatars, Power 9 Challenge, quirky format tourneys, random Chaos drafts, etc. etc. etc..

 

Better business model! 

Great Idea by Anonymous (Unregistered) 66.83.94.54 (not verified) at Tue, 01/29/2008 - 16:35
Anonymous (Unregistered) 66.83.94.54's picture

I'm currently a pauper player, as it's the only community of competitive magic I've found that meets my budget requirements. However, I'd be all over this format if it ever came to fruitiion. The only change I would make would be to put a limit on the total value of the deck in addition to a card value cap. For example, limit each deck to being worth no more than $20, and no card worth more than $2. Granted, this is from my personal perspective as a player (and admitted cheapskate): I'm unsure whether this would hurt (by limiting the amount players will spend on a deck) or help (by increasing the value cap on individual cards) dealers.

 As the poster above mentioned, enforcement could be an issue. I think he touched on the idea solution, being one where players enter their deck into some third party software which tests decklists for legality. Banned lists could be generated every week (or other interval) by a bot which crawls popular sites for recent card prices. 

Badges Idea by Wizardtb at Tue, 01/29/2008 - 15:48
Wizardtb's picture

Great article! Your idea has some merit, but I think I may have a better one (Though, yours is probablly easier to implement). 

This is a problem I have been pondering over for a while. This evolved into MountainProud's "Badges Idea", it's on the official MTGO forums if you want to take a look. Basically, an XBox Live-type system. The whole blueprints haven't been developed, but the basic idea is there- reward players for accomplishing certain tasks and let players be able to flaunt their "badges" to other players. This gives "casual" an edge- no prizes are really at stake, but players have an incentive to try something new.

So, if you win a certain amount of games with "Eater of Worlds", you get an Eater of Worlds badge. Likewise, play a certain amount of games with a given tribe, and earn that badge as well. This would require complex alogorithms and planning in order to work (And automatching to boot), but it's an idea with so much merit, and it would help to increase interest and longetiviity in the game as a whole.

Intriguing idea by eotinb at Tue, 01/29/2008 - 12:58
eotinb's picture

I like the idea, but the fact that the format is self-limiting means that there is a ceiling to how far the prices of any given card can rise and if I'm a dealer I'd rather figure out a way to allow the prices to keep going up. Also, the metagame for such a format would be a mess -- say some version of your Words of Wind deck becomes very successful and Words rises in value to whatever the cap is. Then I have to stop playing that deck because Words is too expensive so I find another deck. But Words price falls in a few weeks since it's not legal in the only format it's any good in, so now the deck is back again. This would happen with all the top tier decks, right? This seems like a mess to me.

And as you state in the article, enforcment is a serious sticking point. I suppose it might be possible to self-police if the playgroup was small enough, but of course you want a decent number of people playing to format to drive up the cost of cards. I can see two features that would make this possible: 1. some kind of third party deck check (allowing the online organizer to spot check lists during matches), or 2. customizable ban lists (organizer creates a file containing the B&R list and all players load this on their client somehow, server could just make sure both players are using same custom file when setting up the game so the real deck restrictions could be done client-side).