Sunday, December 9, 2018

Ultimate Masters: One and Done, Right?

"One and done" is a term used in the TCG business to mean that the print run for a product is limited. 'We are doing one limited print run, and it's one and done.' Or, worse case for rarity, UMA will have a second, and much smaller print run. Here is an issue I have with how this term is used when it's in reference to a FOMO (fear of missing out) cash grab like UMA: if that one and only single unique will never happen again limited print run is gigantic (which it looks like UMA's was-gigantic, I mean), then it does not matter that it's 'one and done.' Here are selected listings (listing 4 or more copies, and I only picked one screen shot of listings) for the top rare, bottom rare, and top uncommon (by selling price) for UMA.

January 2019 is going to be a great month for buyers of Magic singles. Happy New Year, fellow bottom-feeders!

Ultimate Masters: Anatomy of a Train Wreck.

There is a panic going on with UMA singles on release as sellers rush to dump a very large supply of singles as the most saturated market for Magic singles (or any TCG singles) ever plays out. Here are some pictures of the train wreck. Here are 40 listings of UMA Liliana of the Veil.

Channel Fireball listing 20 copies at $69.99 (giving you the price to make it easy for you to find their listing above) does not mean they have only 20 copies. It most likely means that they are listing 20 and have more that they have pulled. Regardless, this is a large supply of the highest value non-foil, non-Box Topper in UMA.

It's simple math as to why UMA is a bad investment for singles sellers:

1. It's a ratio and not an absolute value. It doesn't matter if the box has an EV of $20,000 when it got mega-hyped, it's about what that EV will be when you list the cards to sell versus what you paid for the box. If you bought the box for $10,000 and sold for $9,999, you lost money, period. UMA is like that: if you are paying $200 at mega-wholesale, and the singles crash, and you sell on average for $199, you lost money. This is what seems to be happening to UMA.

2. Supply and demand: if many LGSs are cracking boxes in the hundreds, that is a very large supply. Legacy and Vintage are dead formats (there is not one million players for each waiting to buy singles). You are selling to Modern and Commander, and collectors who don't care about formats. If those three groups don't have enough capital to pump the price of the singles, anyone who bought into UMA either unloads at a loss now, or sits on it for at least one year hoping none of these singles make it into some other reprint.

3. If many of the entities (LGSs, private individuals) who bought large numbers of boxes bought them on credit, they need to unload the product to make bank. This one is the scary one. Can UMA take down an LGS? We will not know this soon.

Multiple factors have played into the panic:

1. Product saturation: the three buying groups (Modern players, Commander players, and non-format collectors) have already been carpet-bombed with Masters (reprint) sets, beginning Summer 2016, when Eternal Masters was issued.

Eternal Masters (6/10/16)
Modern Masters 2017 (3/17/17)
Iconic Masters (11/17/17)
Masters 25 (3/16/18)
Ultimate Masters (12/7/18)

2. Market timing: this one ties in to product saturation, but also with UMA getting dropped as a Christmas surprise after many players had already allocated and/or spent their play money on something other than UMA. I am one of these players. No matter how much I may dislike the gigantic cash grab that is UMA, I would have still gotten a few singles, especially Demonic Tutor. But Ultimate Masters was announced AFTER I had spent all my play money for the year. If I buy any UMA singles (which I probably will, I am not Mother Theresa, I will buy cards when I need them, even if they were printed in what I think is one of the most unethical products I have seen issued in a while), I will have to wait until January 2019, when my next budget kicks in.

January UMA singles are going to be awesome. I already have my buy list ready. These are hype prices, and only for general reference. Let's see what the actual prices are in January 2019.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

MTGO Casual Vintage

I am planning to use this fictitious format to have some solitaire fun on MTGO as it slowly fades into nothingness. I add the power 9 to a singleton 60 card Vintage legal deck, and, voila! Also, the only non-basic lands legal in this made-up format are the Ravnica I bounce lands.

This example is my Boros Ravnica Kit Commander deck pared down for this format. It's just an early trial deck.

Any deck in this format can go wide pretty quickly.

It's just for fun.

I hope MTGO survives for at least one more year.

I look forward to making more of these decks and playing them on MTGO.

Can you imagine if in a long term future someone owned the rights to these cards and printed a deck with the power 9 on paper? A boy can dream!

MTGO Opportunity Buying

You may think I am crazy, but, thank God, I can afford to lose $15. I just rented these pixels from Cardhoarder.

I sold my previous one to them when I sold out my whole collection a year ago. I am running low on funds for the year, but if MTGO is still around for a few more years, I would love to get back to making Vintage and Legacy decks and playing them in Solitaire just for fun. Don't forget to have fun, folks!

Let's see what announcements come our way from Wizards. If they close down MTGO in a month, I lost $15. If MTGO is on for a few more years, I am in great shape. I first thought of renting a large number of penny cards, but I can do that anytime. If it does turn out that Wizards will allow the hardcore casuals like yours truly to play on in MTGO with the entire card collection ever published, well, I will have a ton of fun coming my way.

And after writing the above, I realized that I will only live once, and that I can spare not just $15 on this crazy gamble, I can spare all of $50 on it. So here goes, maybe nothing, maybe a lot of fun solitaire play in the future:

Friday, December 7, 2018

MTGO Panic Selling

It may not be the end of MTGO, but it sure looks like the beginning of the end. This saddens me because MTGO is how I have gotten to play almost 100 percent of all of the Magic I have ever played. I sold out to Cardhoarder a year ago. Here is what they tweeted earlier today.

I was thinking of playing Vintage solitaire at some point... I am pretty sure that I will not (unless Wizards makes an announcement that makes me believe MTGO is not a dying platform).

I decided to sell out of MTGO out of a gut instinct when I first tried out Arena. I realized that the draft grinders would migrate from MTGO to Arena, and then the bottom would fall out of the MTGO economy. I think this panic selling is not the one event that will crush MTGO, but it sure looks like an event of that type.

Let's hope that MTGO does not collapse, because I will then lose the platform in which I do all of my testing... Let's hope MTGO will see brighter days.

Update, same day as this post:

December 11, 2018 update: I did buy the power 9 at the bottom of this panic, and it is now clearly over. If I can get one more year of play out of MTGO, I am happy with my $50 rental cost for the power 9 pixels.

Back to normal, which is great. MTGO is the only place for me to play/play-test Magic until I get a new laptop and play some Arena, and that could be a year from now.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Ultimate Masters: The Cat and Mouse Episode

Say you hear that there is a new reprint set about to come out. It's called Ultimate Masters, and in it, there are many reprints of Modern staples. Awesome, right? Here are the top eight Modern decks based on data from MTGGoldfish (awesome website, check it out:

1. Dredge $724.55

2. Humans $1,218.41

3. Mono-Green Tron $718.74

4. Bant Spirits $1,160.11

 5. Azorius Control $1,039.34

6. Burn $429.45

7. Hardened Scales $1,021.60

 8. Jund $1,742.55

Cat and mouse? Yes. You see, some of the most expensive cards in these very expensive decks are in Ultimate Masters, which means that their prices will drop in the next few months, but some of them are not in UMA. Some cards will become less expensive, and others will become more expensive. Welcome to the Modern installment plan. If you want to build these decks for less than these ridiculous prices, you will need to play the Modern cat and mouse game. Say you started to play this game today. For the most expensive cards, you get the ones in Ultimate Masters, and then you wait until the other expensive cards get reprinted in the future. But when? Well, whenever that happens. This means that, unless you are willing to pay full price now, it will take you several years (not months) to complete one of these decks for, say, 30 percent less than their price today.

Hey, but you can play Burn: true. It's a linear strategy, yet can be had for only a little over $400.

But there's so much value in UMA... I mean, it's the best set ever. Sure, but if you want to reduce the cost of one of these decks, many of the most valuable cards in them are not in UMA.

Exhibit 1: the fetchlands

In Humans, Hardened Scales, and Tron: No fetches! Nice! That's almost half the decks.

In Dredge:
Bloodstained Mire, 4, $91.80
Scalding Tarn, 3, $227.07

In Bant Spirits:
Flooded Strand, 3, $53.97
Misty Rainforest, 2, $91.18
Windswept Heath, 2, $27.72

Azorius Control: Flooded Strand, 4, $71.96

In Burn:
Bloodstained Mire, 4, $91.80
Wooded Foothills, 4, $91.96

In Jund:
Bloodstained Mire, 2, $45.90
Verdant Catacombs, 4, $222.00
Wooded Foothills, 2, $45.98

Exhibit 2: other lands

Dredge: Copperline Gorge, 4, $72.20
Humans and Bant Spirits: Horizon Canopy, 4, $239.96
Hardened Scales:
Horizon Canopy, 2, 199.98
Inkmoth Nexus, 4, $70.04

There are other cards that are not in UMA and in these decks. Just with the lands, I can describe the cat and mouse game of buying into one of these competitive decks.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Ultimate Masters: Fantastic Investment Vehicle?

I am picking up where I left off here:

A person in reddit wrote: "This is the most value-packed, unbelievable set ever printed. If you don't like it and aren't hyped about getting it, literally nothing will get you hyped for buying anything for this game. Perhaps you need to reevaluate whether you actually like Magic or not."

This statement summarizes well what Wizards is going for with this product. But there are a few assumptions under it that I find troubling:

1. That the most important cards that can be reprinted (all of Modern, a good number in Legacy, a smaller number in Vintage, a large number of Commander) can remain above $20, and in some cases hover between $50 and $100 indefinitely. This is the 'maintenance of reprint equity' business.
2. That it is good for the hobby that a competitive Modern deck cost approximately $1000.
3. That Legacy and Vintage be formats only available to those luckiest (players who bought the cards when they were much cheaper) or the wealthy.

You see, the point of a game is that there are a large number of possible players. You should be able to play competitively in Modern with no individual card costing more than $20. I know I would be laughed out of the room, and perhaps banned out of the reddits of Magic for advocating such a view. The 'law of the land' is that these ridiculous prices for playing pieces of cardboard are required because we must protect the value currently held in collections. If I want cheap cards, I am told, I should only stick to Standard, or just play at home, or buy a Commander pre-constructed deck.

OK. What happens if I run into someone socially and they want to play Magic with me, but they want to play with money cards, and I can't, or don't want to? Well, that is what happens when you segment your player base. The wealthy Magic player is not playing with the poor Magic player. That's social justice: as a peasant, I deserve to be excluded from playing with the wealthy. I have declared myself a social outcast by my decisions, or by my fate, in not being able to play above a cost threshold. Will I remain in such a game? Will I allow others to treat me like I am not worthy of the game? You know that there are many other games, right? I can play Pokemon games on the Nintendo 3DS (I do). I can play Fortnite on my family's Sony Playstation 4 (I occasionally do). You can bling all you want in Fortnite, yet you will always be able to play minus bling. That's the successful game formula. The Ultimate Masters calculus adds up to failure.

SO let's get into the Estimated Value business. Magic is a trading game, and the higher the value of a box of packs, the better your trades will be to make the decks you want. That makes perfect sense, and is an inmutable law in TCGs. The going rate is that you pay $90 to $100 for a booster box while the cards are in Standard, and that said box has an EV 30 percent lower than that. This is an acceptable return. The packs are $4 each. You will get similar numbers for Pokemon, Yugioh, even Force of Will TCG... any TCG that is still being published and supported by the company that makes it.

Wizards has decided that when you double all the numbers, and even when you triple all the numbers, the immutable EV law of TCGs still holds true. For Ultimate Masters, the packs are $12 instead of $4, and the EV of the box is $300 or more instead of $100. But they forgot a major constraint: that when individual cards go from a maximum of $20 to $40 to double or triple this range, the game is no longer considered affordable, or even just plain old affordable, to a wide range of players (many are children and young adults still in school). This is the "this product may not be for you" business I am puzzled about.

Anyways, Ultimate Masters is not for me. I need to move on. Maybe I need to move on from Magic altogether... This 'peasants and princes' business is rubbing me the wrong way. I am still working on my Ravnica super cube. Maybe after those sets come out I will 'call it a day' with Magic. I have been thinking about that as I see the player base segment into clearly defined asset classes. If Modern is made completely out of my price range, then I might as well play Force of Will. Either way, once my cards rotate out of Standard/New Frontiers, I will not be able to play with them (in FOW because Wanderer is a dead format, and in Magic because Modern is over-priced).

Monday, November 12, 2018

Ravnica Boros Guild Kit expanded to Commander: Aurelia

The paper build is in the following playlist:

I made some substituions online for expensive pixels I am not planning to rent.

Here are a few solitaire board states. Tablet of the Guilds gain me a lot of life in small increments.

In this game, I had enough mana rocks to drop many creatures in a single turn.

This is the result.

Aurelia's second battle phase is quite the beater.

Tutoring for Dinosaurs could be something worth expanding in this deck.

Here is a sequence with Assemble the Legion.

If it is not stop, Assemble the Legion, aptly named, will assemble a legion of tokens.

This is just a test board test. In a real game, everyone would be plotting to take out this great enchantment.

Helm of the Host on Aurelia makes for an infinite loop.

No matter how many Aurelias there are on the board, there will only be ONE additional battle phase.

But every time you attack, you will create a new Aurelia, and the additional battle phase... to infinity.

For Afros Kos, the boost will get bigger and bigger.

... and bigger.

... and bigger.