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.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Ultimate Masters: A Peasant's Perspective

I am picking up where I left off here:

I have not bought a single booster pack from any of the master sets. I have felt all along that all those packs should have been $4 packs, and at that price point, I would have bought many boxes. But I am a peasant, and the Wizards price-setters have figured out that I am just too poor for this line of products. They are right: I am too poor for this line of products. I am on a very tight budget, and for calendar year 2018, I do not have enough money left to pre-order a box from Sports and More. It's what I would have done. Peasants are too poor to be principled. I often order from Sports and More, and have no complaints. I just got my peasant guild kits from them.

But there is more to the masters sets than meets the eye. You see, almost every company has several product segments, each catering to a specific demographic. Car makers are a great example. No one gets angry at a car maker when they come out with a much more expensive version of an affordable car that is clearly aimed at drivers with deeper wallets. But here is the difference between Trading Car Games and many other products: TCGs, by design, abide by a pledge that cards will be made affordable to ensure that the largest number of players can play. It's usually an implicit pledge, and when it is broken, that specific TCG's business is hurt. After enough players can't afford enough cards, those players go looking for some other TCG that is more affordable.

Here is the gigantic gamble Wizards has made: there are enough Magic players who will not mind that they cannot afford Ultimate Masters, and those who do mind will be a very small minority that will not be missed when they walk out of Magic. I am one of those players Wizards pointed to by calling us out as 'this product is not for you.' Ultimate Masters (and all other masters sets) are not for me at $7 a pack, $10 a pack, and now $11 to $14 a pack. Why should I be bothered by Ultimate Masters? I have my peasant products, such as the Ravnica guild kits, which I am completely in love with. Why should I be bothered by Ultimate Masters? Am I so high-principled that I care enough about Ultimate Masters not being for me that I would be in an uproar? That does not make any sense. I am a little peasant, with a peasant's wallet, and as a peasant, it is not my business to even think about the existence of Ultimate Masters. I can just pretend Ultimate Masters does not exist, and go on about my peasant ways with my peasant guild kits.

Here is the problem: the segmentation that is possible in other products is not possible in TCGs. The moment a TCG declares a product is for the 'haves' and the other products are for the 'have-nots', it is dividing the player base, and it is pitting the 'haves' player base and the 'have-nots' player base wallet against wallet. Now we will have peasants like me go to an LGS and we will play against a 'haves' player who will proudly show off their Ultimate Masters pimp cards. That's not cool.

But there's more. Modern is the format Wizards concocted to ensure that players could play with their cards as they rotated out of Standard. All of the Modern-specific cards printed in masters sets were supposed to become cheaper to ensure that Modern was an affordable format. The opposite has happened. Not only has Modern gotten more expensive, it has even begun to eat into Legacy as the new pimp format. Ultimate Masters is an important, if not the final installment in that process.

But no, some say, 'do not fret, little peasant, there are many decks you can play in Modern that are affordable.' Really? Being a peasant does not make me a shoe-in for being naive. If I am going to play Modern, I want to play Jund, I want to play Tron. I don't want to play with some budget deck. But I can't. And do you know why? Because Wizards decided to break the implicit pledge explicitly by calling me out as a peasant and telling me that Ultimate Masters is not for me.

What do you think I should do? Should I just be content with my peasant guild kits? I don't know. I am not for impulsive reactions. I want to see how this Ultimate Masters Telenovela plays out. I have my popcorn ready. I also have a mountain of cheap Force of Will TCG packs waiting to get cracked. I will be watching this telenovela while waiting for the five Force of Will TCG New Valhalla cluster starter decks I just ordered. And when they arrive, I will make YouTube videos with those, and I will set aside my peasant tool kits until I have watched a few more episodes of the Ultimate Masters Telenovela.

The Force of Will TCG and Magic are at a very interesting crossroads. FOW is all about it's version of the Standard format, called New Frontiers, and as sets rotate out into the North American non-rotating format, Wanderer, they become mostly worthless. Magic, by contrast, is many orders of magnitude more popular, and has a designated non-rotating format, Modern, that feeds from Standard. Most of the cards in sets rotating out of Standard into Modern also become mostly worthless, but some become Modern staples. This set of Modern Staples has been the backbone of Modern masters sets. With the Modern masters sets, Modern took off in popularity. Initially, some of the more expensive cards became affordable. But now, Modern is on a different path. Now, Modern Staples are on a glide path to remain expensive, just not prohibitively expensive; and now you can get your Modern Staples out of packs that are getting more expensive: from $7 packs, masters sets went to $10 packs, and now to $11 to $14 packs. What about the crossroads bit? FOW does not support Wanderer and sets rotate into oblivion. Well, at least for kitchen table, Wanderer is one incredibly affordable format for rotating New Frontiers FOW cards. Modern Magic, on the other hand, instead of getting more affordable, has become unattainable for peasants. For the price of an Ultimate Masters box, here is what I did this last month (October 2018):

Here is the playlist:

I am an old dude. I have seen what happens when collectors become investors, and when a buying frenzy becomes disconnected from what that hobby is about. I have seen it happen to stamps (the Zeppelins frenzy of the 1980s) and I have seen it happen to Comic Books (the Image Comics debacle of the 1990s). The Ultimate Masters pre-orders have been a resounding success, which being good for Wizards' bottom line, should be good for the game of Magic as a whole. Will it be? I don't know, but something tells me that Ultimate Masters is a negative turning point for Magic. I want to be wrong.

In the next episode of the Ultimate Masters Telenovela we will find out the contents of the entire set. The expectation is that the Estimated Value of the set will merit the new, higher price point. I have my popcorn ready since that is all that, as a peasant, I can afford and is meant for me, so Wizards tells me.

P.S. If you want to read the world's most scathing comments, go to the announcement video (if I was in the PR department at Wizards I would have taken this video down or at least disabled comments):

Here are some of the comments:

"This product is not for me, which is fine. I'm sure someone is excited for it."

"MTG for payers not players!"

"When I win the lottery, I'm going to buy a box of Ultimate Masters!"

"Blizzard: No one can top us for being out of touch with our fan base!" (A reference to the Blizzard Diablo fiasco)

"Out of season April fools jokes are a thing...." (Yet another reference to the Blizzard Diablo fiasco)

"Grats on trying to top Diablo Immortal for dumbest stunt pulled by a company yet." (And even more references to the Blizzard Diablo fiasco)

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Ravnica Guild Kits (GRN Guilds)

This is one of the best products for new players, and for Ravnica fans ever.

This video is part of the following playlist: