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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Budget Building: Postcards from Bant

Welcome Back! It's been about 2 months since our little weekender in plane of Bant, and about a month before our next mini-vacation in the planes of Alara. This makes it a perfect time to revisit what we have pulled together so far for block, and to shadow the coming of Conflux. We were able to use our $20.00 budget to assemble an impressive power level for our collection, but did we make the right choices? Strap in, because I'm going to be hitting on a variety of topics today, bridging the Past, Present, and Future of Bant, and Magic at large.

How did we do?

We have had a major shake up to the price structure of Magic cards, how did our collection ride out the change? First off lets talk about the change it self. The price for a NCC (non-chase common) went from $0.25 to $0.10 or a reduction of 60%, meanwhile a NCU (non-chase uncommon) from to $0.25 from $0.50, a 50% reduction. Several factors aligned to make this shift happen. First off S/D (supply and demand) have rebalanced due to the addition of Mythics in the new product mix. In short, people want Mythics, and more packs are being opened to meet their demand. This increases the supply of NCCards has driven down the prices. This has also effected the price of many rares, but since this is a budget focus article, this has little impact on our collection. A second component has also effected the S/D relationship. US and Global demand are down due to stagnant economic bases. People are simple spending less money to participate in hobby activities, and Magic has been no exception. Lastly, the secondary market has recently seen competition at it's highest levels, something unheard of for over 5 years. A new market maker from the west coast has forced to reevaluate it's price structure. The net result is that the average aftermarket price of a Magic card has dropped by 50%.

In October, I advised my readers to trade Knight of the White Orchid, Knight-Captain of Eos, and foil prom Ajani Vengent up for trade for a decent $17 in trade value. Since that time both the Ajani, and the Orchid Knight have dropped in value nearly 30% from their October highs, the captain has held firmly at $1 at almost all times. These three cards today would only bring $11 in trade. I call this side of the equation a win, netting our collection 35% more value then havin held the cards. So how did our purchases fair? With the $17 in trade we picked up;

4 O-rings
4 Relic of Proginitus
4 Wild Nectal
2 Bant Charm
Quasali Ambusher
Rhox War Monk
3 Sigiled Paladin
2 Whisper Silk Cloak

These cards today value out at $15.00, just an 11% reduction in value. I think we fared pretty well. The one miss-step was the Quasali Ambushers which have slipped off the chase-radar, and fallen in value a fair bit. I still think these are great cards, and I look forward to picking up our fourth copy at today's bargain pricing, but for the moment, I have to count this as a failed pick.

What to play!

Now, Magic is about playing and having fun! Stretching our budget is only a way to have the most bang for our buck, so how does out collection play? That is were this collection really shows it stuff. Not only does this deck appeal to every player profile, but it is incredibly effective, with high degrees of synergy, and draws on some of the most powerful uncommons in the block to date. The obvious choice for the deck was the back-breaking synergy offered by the Exalted mechanic. We start the deck off with a full set of Squires, and Paladins, 3 Guardians, 2 Avens, 2 Chargers, a Benediction, and Battlegarce Angel. This gives the deck 17 potential Exalted triggers, plus the Angel's lifelink bonus, and the Benediction's tap down. I rounded out our creature selection with the talents of our lifelinking Monks, and card drawing Visionary.

On the other side of the equation, we ride to victory with a full set of Sigil Blessings, 2 Whispersilk Cloaks, and Kiss of Amesha. Our non-creature MVP's are Bant Charm, and Oblivion Ring. The O-ring is pretty well known at this point. If you are playing white, and not playing this card, please help me understand why? enough said! Bant Charm is clearly the best of the Charm cycle, and gives so many options in this deck as every option is not only playable, but potentially game breaking every time. 1)Destroy target artifact is pure Esper hate, being one of the key players moving into block consideration. 2) Put Target creature on the bottom of the owners deck equals clear the way fro your Exalted monstrosity. 3) Counter target instant spell, like those trying to break your lines.

The land base of this deck really builds itself. After some tinkering, I have found that 3 Seaside Citadels, 2 Bant Panorama, 2 Islands, 5 Forests and 12 Plains gives me a good supply of the right mana at the right time.

Looking forward to Conflux

Very little is know yet about the Conflux set, but one card is an early stand out.

Noble Hierarch
G creature Rhino Monk? 0/1
tap: produce w, u or g.

This card is going to shoot Bant into the upper atmosphere. It is a choice one drop, has Exalted, and a man fixer all in one. It will make Bant decks hum like a well oiled machine. The best part is it's going to uncommon, and here is why. 1) Wizards does not reinvent the wheel for no good reason. If they wanted a card like this at a rare slot they, they would simply use Birds of Paradise. The removal of two colors and flying, does not balance against the addition of exalted, so a clear down grade of power has occurred. If this is printed as a rare, it will be a clear sign the BoP will be mythic in future printings. This not only would be a huge mistake, but would violate Rosewaters commitment to keep utility cards from reaching Mythic status. 2) Wizards has shown a clear commitment to keeping color fixing available in the common and uncommon slots, to allow a Sharded limited environment to be playable with ease. This card will need to appear as an uncommon to hold that course.

It would not surprise me to see a similar creature with Jund colors that either comes into play with depletion type counters based on the devour mechanic, or which makes token creatures when it leaves play. As an uncommon, the Hierarach will reach a chase status quickly, but will be worth the price for an Bant based deck. I plan on adding 4 copies to our test deck along with 2 Forests, and a Seaside Citadel, in place of Kiss of Amesha, 2 wave skimmers, 2 panoramas, and 2 islands. The new set will undoubtably bring about other changes, and may even place a new Shard in our arsenal. Clearly the Naya, and Esper shard offer potential Bant synergies which Jund, and Grixis are unlikely to match.

An asside on Quasali Ambusher

This card is so under rated right now. This fits into a very narrow group of cards with in Magics history, which can be played or free. It's pedigree alone makes this card destined to have an impact on it's environment. The problem is that right now it is nearly impossible to cast it for free. The current sharded meta makes the forest and plains in play a tough trick in the early game since both Bant, and Naya are using non-basic lands to bring their tri-colored mana bases on line as quickly as possible. The Hierarch is expected to change the Bant base significantly, potentially bringing this card back to the spot light. The anticipated domain focus of Naya in Conflux, may similarly make basics, and in turn this card back into favor. Similarly, 11th is highly anticipated to include the shock lands from Ravnica block either a a full cycle or a half cycle. These lands carry with them the land types, so a single land can carry multiple land types. This addition to standard makes the domain theme of Conflux, and the Ambusher potentially even more attractive. Prismatic Omen, Tideshaper Mystic, and Lush Growth may all find favor in the coming months.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

From the Wire to the Soapbox: The End of an Error

Wizards has recently confirmed long standing speculation that all print releases will be black bordered. This brings to a close a 10 plus year mistake, and paves the road for improved international re-printings. Beginning with Wizards second major release of Unlimited in December 1993, the precedent was set that all reprinted cards, like those of the base or core set would be white bordered. This also represents the first time in the fifteen year history of the game that I can recall a single Wizards DCI policy change which was universally met with approval.

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings on this issue. I clearly remember my very first magic cards were white bordered, from the Revised released April 1994. I even recall how odd the the Ice Age cards seemed when they were released, and how inferior black bordered cards felt at the time, simply because I had grown accustom to my white bordered ways.

Black bordered cards (BB's for short) quickly became much more highly sought after by both collectors and players, as the mark of a "real" or "experienced" player, and carried with them a prestige that WB's have never been able to match. Even today the same card from the Unlimited printing can often be had for pennies on the dollar when compared the far more desirable Beta printing.

Ancestral Recall brings a whopping $700.00 for an average condition in Beta, but a mere $500.00 for a similar condition from Unlimited. Armageddon fetches $50.00 for Beta and $7.50 Unlimited. The highly sought after Dual-Lands often fetch 300-500% more as BB then their WB counterparts. Casual Table swingers like Balance can fetch a 10 fold premium for BB or WB. Even cards currently rendered unplayable like the Lace cycle, or Ante cards routinely fetch premiums of 8-10 fold for BB or WB.

So why this seemingly in explicable difference? DCI does not recognize any difference of cards from different print runs but for 2 exceptions to address the the physical difference in size of Alpha addition, and certain "collector only" print runs which have different card back, thus potentially marking these cards in sanctioned play. Even cards with different card wordings, printed from different runs, are rendered functionally the same thanks to Oracles over riding effects. So then some will inevitably ask why one black lotus is worth more then another when the only difference is the border color of the cards?

The reason here is both simple and complex at the same time, and finds it's roots in both the early days of the game and the core of what Magic was and has become. Magic was and always will be a collectible card game or CCG for short. A certain population of it's ownership will always be collectors, all though most of us would describe our selves as players first and foremost. The majority of the time a BB represents an earlier printing, and thus a more sought after collectible then the later WB equivalents. There always has been, and will be a certain prestige derived by collectors and players alike from BB cards which WB will never be able to match. Nothing says "Noob" like flopping down a WB card, and for years WB basic lands was a sign to take it easy, since the player was bound to be new to the game.

This really caused very few real problems except with the ever growing international releases. Since cards had not been printed previously in some language, their first printing was expected to be BB. This often made even mid range power cards from Spain, Italy, Germany, and the like collectors items simply do to the fact that they were BB. This brought with it extreme price fluctuations due to highly sporadic supply, and made some cards a danger to collect because the next international flight could flood your local market with relatively cheap, highly sought after cards.

Admittedly, I often use this virtual card racism to my advantage, and pick up white bordered cards cheaper for decks and my collection. In the end winning is winning, and the WB will do until I can afford to black out my collection. While I have never taken any formal measurements on the subject, I would guess that 20% of my collection is WB. This stems primarily from my earliest cards which are, and will probably remain WB do to the cost of what few BB equivalents exist. My complete set of 9th and what little 8th I own is almost entirely WB, although I suspect that I will discover BB in other areas of my Vintage collections as I continue to organize, and purge out duplications.

Just as I will continue to purge and replace by WB's for the more prized BB's, so to will the community at large. The day will come were WB will have run it's course, and become extinct to the multiverse, seen only in museum displays, and old timer stories about the "good old days". Rapidly 99% of all WB's will be destined to the penny boxes of retailers, or continually recycled to the future generations of noobs until their fibers give way to the demands of time, and use. Only a few WB cards will retain any real value as the demand for the card in any condition will outweigh it's supply. In any case we witness these days an end of an error, and a fundamental change to the game.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008