Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Tiered Model is Thriving

 I applaud Wizards for getting players to be in tiers like they do in sports cards. More power to them. The fetchlands have been used to create an artificial environment in which the entry to Modern is through $6 to $10 packs, depending on which set (I am going back all the way to the original Modern Masters) we are talking about. There is nothing wrong with these sets. On the contrary, they are great. The whales can feed on them, and that's great for whales, and even great for everyone because those Wotc profits will trickle down as high production quality for the peasant tier: Standard sets. This is Reaganomics, but for Magic.

There are people who are not whales who buy into these products. Here Wotc has slowly gotten people to adapt to paying a lot more for the same product they were getting 10 years ago. Some came in after the prices went up and don't even know that there was a time when five of the fetchlands were in Standard. The player base has almost no memory, and Wotc is very smart in using this lack of memory to gate keep Modern.

Someone at Wotc did the equation and figured out that there are enough whales for these products and that peasants would go about their business buying Standard packs. I know in my case, beginning with Modern Masters, I began to seek affordable alternatives in other games (Pokemon before the bubble, Yugioh, and Force of Will). For as long as there are very few people like me, Wotc will be fine with the tiered model.

It sucks for me because I was quite the Modern fan boy when it got started. If all of the Modern Masters products had been $4 packs, I would have built a sizable Modern collection. I was planning just that, and then Modern Masters came out. I changed my mind. And this is the crux of the matter: the long term effect of decisions people like me made almost 10 years ago. Do I represent a tiny tiny minority of the player base? Based on the pallets of super expensive products Wotc has issued since Modern Masters, I must be in the smallest of minorities.

I agree with Rudy and MTG Lion that it won't take much for Magic to experience an all-out speculative bubble like the one we have in Pokemon. A couple of high profile YouTubers opening boxes of Legends will do it. I think the conditions are there. It's just a matter of time. Not only that, I think Wizards has a $1000 box ready to be issued once the conditions are right. It is not an IF, it's a WHEN. 

Modern Horizons II will be a home run. There are many whales waiting to feast on this product. We are just waiting for the Pokemon scalpers to add Magic to their portfolio, and when they do, everyone who bought into all of the premium products Wizards has issued recently will make a fortune.

We will likely experience a rotation similar to the one in Pokemon: people who play the game will be priced out and take a break from it as they are replaced by people who only want to invest in the product and don't know and don't care to play the game. I think this is the next phase for Magic. I have my popcorn ready.

Such a missed opportunity for Wizards that I believe will come back to haunt the game. 1,000 whales is better than 100,000 budget players, that's the current equation, and this is a big miss because the value of Magic collections needs the 100,000 budget players who act as ambassadors to the game. The 1,000 anonymous whales are not ambassadors to the game, and the second they see the value of their large holdings go down, they will walk out on the game, whereas the 100,000 budget players will stick with the game through thick and thin.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Late March, 2021

 Umm, that seems like a random date range. It isn't. This is the date range some people found out that the Onslaught fetch lands were going to be in Modern Horizons 2, and this is the date range when all those people went on a buying spree for the Onslaught versions of the cards.

Polluted Delta

Blood-Stained Mire

Ummm, what a coincidence... Well, except it sure does not look like a coincidence that all of these cards doubled in price within the same week and more than a month before we the peasants found out.

Show me the fetches

 In response to someone predicting the fetches would tank in value in the near future:

It will be great if your predictions prove correct, but you have several major unkowns, and any or all can make prices stay the same, even go higher:
  1. We don't really know when people will be back at 90 percent of LGSs. When this point is reached, there will be a wave of demand for everything TCG.
  2. There is a lot of pent up demand for fetches. Wizards knows this, and has been able to use fetches to prop up products.
  3. Modern could experience a come-back, a resurgence.
  4. There may be enough speculators in Magic post the trillions of free government tendies to fuel a wave of non-player increases in the value of fetches, and that wave could take one, two, three years to finally dissipate.
What will help your prediction:
  1. A bad economy, and no one is seeing this in like the next five years.
  2. The LGS model continues an inevitable decline.
  3. Modern does not pick up steam.
  4. Wallet fatigue finally catches up to Wizards reprinting many versions of the same card in many different products.
  5. Speculators find some other shiny object to speculate on and move on from fetches.
I think in balance the four aspects of fetches continuing to be valuable, even increase in value, seem a lot stronger than the four aspects pointing to a decline in valuation. The valuation of the fetches has a lot more to do with the ABU lands being in the reserved list than any other factor. Add to this that Wizards is giving Modern the appeal Legacy used to have: a really deep card pool and pushed decks that are very powerful. Wizards has a ten step program to turn Modern into Legacy minus the Reserved List, and two or three Modern Horizons sets down the line, fetches could be as valuable to players as the ABU duals are today. I think the speculation on fetches cointinuing to go up in value is where the money will go.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Jund Arena deck

 This deck got me all the way to Mythic during March 2021. I am not planning to update it for Strixhaven because I took red out of it and switched in blue. 

Blue Deck Wins Arena deck

 We are used to the acronym RDW for Red Deck Wins, a very fast deck that beats face hard and wins quickly, but here is a twist: Blue Deck Wins. If I get enough unsummon effects going against any creature heavy deck, I can win fairly consistently. It's one heck of a troll deck!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

I will get with the program: set boosters

 I have been negative about set boosters because I am used to draft boosters, but I have come to the realization that I don't mind if Wizards has weaseled a way to increase the price of boosters by 20 percent. I don't consider myself an entitled player and it's OK for Wizards to make a little more money. I am not a fan of the master sets or any of the other $6 to $8 packs, and to date I have cracked exactly zero of those packs. The company seems to be run by corporate overlords who don't have Magic in their hearts, and that is bad karma. We need the people who run this game to bleed Magic, and they seem to be bleeding dollars and euros... But I will get with the program. I love the large set era, and plan to get some Strixhaven set boosters. Why not? It's a hobby. By the way, the Japanese cards in the Strixhaven collector packs are some of the most beautiful cards ever issued, period: Magic out Force of Willed the Force of Will TCG.

Here's my money, Wizards, take it, just take it, all right!

What will be the impact of Flesh and Blood on Magic?

 We are on the eve of Monarch coming out in Flesh and Blood (FaB). 

FaB has already gone into full speculative bubble mode for some of the more collectable cards, with a handful of cards valued in the thousands of dollars. The game seems to be well-managed, and is currently in the middle of a most passionate honeymoon. The game plays a lot like the World of Warcraft TCG (a hero outfitted with weapons and armor), but with an innovative pitch resource system. I plan to crack some FaB just because I want to be in the action. Let's see where FaB is in one year. Every TCG is always one set away from a major blunder: Homelands, Fallen Empires, and Chronicles for Magic; Millennia of Ages for Force of Will TCG.

Will FaB take a big bite out of Magic? It does not seem that way right now. Magic is doing well, and has weathered the pandemic in great shape thanks to Arena. FaB does not have or intend to have an online player. That's unfortunate, even if the company is selling this missstep as a feature of the game. 

Sunday, February 7, 2021

I am glad I cracked all those pre-pandemic packs!!!

Even though this blog is dedicated to Magic, I write here about my Yugioh collection.

I came the conclusion back in 2015 or so that Yugioh was ten years behind in collecting when compared to Magic: that the same price increases would happen in Yugioh, but delayed roughly by a decade. BUT, the two TCGs are not comparable in many ways, and these comparisons are not labeled as positive or negative, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder:

  1. Yugioh is the quintessential casual player's paradise. You like JTMS? OK, we issued it at Mythic first, then a year later we issue it as a common in a precon, and it will get another twenty reprints. Dante is exhibit A here. You want it, wou got it. The reprinting is very aggressive, which means that collecting Yugioh is nothing like collecting Magic. Not only is everything up for a reprint, everything is up for a dizzying rarity change. The downside is that prices tank a lot. The upside is that if you want to collect Yugioh, you will fill many slots at bargain prices; they just won't be cards anyone will pay you any money for, at least for the next decade.
  2. There are many treasures in the 1st edition printings, many many. This is where your mention of the LOB (first Yugioh English set, 2002) 1st Edition cards go. Of course, the whole set in a whole booster box has been faked! You need to know your Yugioh if you are going to buy LOB 1st Edition. Same as with ABU Duals, you need lots of comparison cards, you need to know the colors, the feel of the cardboard, the ridges in the cardboard (the early cardboard has a unique look and feel)... you need to know what you are doing.
  3. The iconic cards are always in demand, always increasing in value, even the ones that have been reprinted a zillion times. Black Rose Dragon: bought unlimited from original set-crossroads of chaos, a playset, at like $5 each card a few years back, it's $10 per card today.
  4. The pandemic has hit the big three in a similar way. A lot of Yugioh is getting cracked... a lot. Packs I used to get for a song are now $10 packs, packs like unlimited 2002 and 2003 packs. Even packs from the Zexal era (which at the time seemed like they were printed into oblivion) are getting expensive. Everything in the big three TCGs is getting cracked at like ten times the rate it was being cracked before this awful pandemic. I mean, look at Theros... ridiculous, those boxes sat in storage for almost a decade.
  5. Yugioh collectors will have a lot more money to spend ten years out when many of them are five years into their professional careers. This is a no-brainer. Right now, most of them are broke high school and college kids.
  6. Yugioh hits you from many angles, Japan-style: manga, anime, cards, movies. If you want to get into the lore, it's panoramic, even if quality varies across the various formats. Magic needs to improve a ton in this department. Magic needs a movie every two years, a really well done comic series, a cartoon series.... it's a content gap the size of the Grand Canyon.
I was very lucky to build my sample collection of Yugioh 2015 to right up to the beginning of the pandemic. I will never get that opportunity again. I seized the moment. I cracked unlimited packs of every set except for Invasion of Chaos and Magician's Force. I cracked several Ghost Rares for 5Ds and Zexal, most unlimited, but a Ghost Rare is a Ghost Rare (these are equivalent to the lottery cards in Magic). I even got some on video.

If you cracked a lot of Magic, Pokemon and Yugioh before the pandemic, consider yourself lucky. We probably still have 6 to 9 months of being holed up in the pandemic, and there will be a lot more packs getting cracked while we all wait to resume our normal lives. Prices of sealed product for the big three for everything produced before the pandemic will increase. Simple supply and demand.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Fundamental Failure of the Variants in One Set Blocks and no Core Set era

 I can imagine being present at the meetings where the one set block was sold (and bought) by the people at Wizards with the power to implement this significant mistake. The logic is simple, as it often is for great successes and great failures: 

our players love many types of sets and many types of worlds >> we can visit more worlds and a wider variety of game mechanics new and old the faster we shift from block to block >> our traditional blocks last a whole year in three sets >> we can triple the frequency of visits by going to one set blocks >> one set blocks are the answer 

The logic of great successes is equally simple:

Our large sets are drafted best in two-color archetypes >> let's make a three set block that is designed around two-color archetypes >> Ravnica I, II, III, and someday, I hope, IV, V, VI, and infinity.

But it gets worse because there is an additional logical sequence for failure that has been sold and bought at Wizards: that the core set needs to be replaced by a set that sells better. This one makes sense from a short-term financial perspective. It is true that core sets don't sell as well, initially, as other sets do. But long term, core sets sell for many more years than block sets do. Why? well, because people like me, when we build cubes, we need core set cards to glue the cube together. I still buy M12 and M13 packs. I use those cards in cubes. In addition, Magic without new players will wither and die, and the core set is that introductory product. By getting rid of the core set (again!), Wizards is reducing the number of new players. You don't believe me, right? I have no evidence, right? If I am wrong, I am just one random dude. If I am right, Magic will have some rough times ahead specifically because of several major mistakes I discuss here: variants in products that cannibalize casual products, the one set block, and the abandonment of the core set. 

Here is the logic then:

our players love many types of sets and many types of worlds >> we can visit more worlds and a wider variety of game mechanics new and old the faster we shift from block to block >> our traditional blocks last a whole year in three sets >> we can triple the frequency of visits by going to one set blocks >> one set blocks are the answer >> oh and the core sets sells like crap >> out with the core set >> we can quadruple the frequency of visits

We have a precendent for what can happen when the core set is abandoned, and even if the Amonkhet era is not exactly comparable, it is similar. Back then, we had two block sets with one large set and one small set. Complete cycles, especially complete uncommon cycles, are important sellers of packs. The Ranvica I, II, and III cycles of uncommons, and commons make those packs eternally in high demand. It's dumb to crack packs for rares and mythics, but if there is a solid and complete common or uncommon cycle, those packs will get cracked into oblivion (the signets, the guild mages, the guild charms. The Eldraine+ era at least does have some complete cycles, and all sets are large. This is great. At least this mistaken era does not have the problem of incomplete cycles. This mistaken era only shares the lack of a core set with that other mistaken era. With all large sets, we do have plenty of cards that make decks better in a way we did not during the Amonkhet era. 

Enter cash-generating ideas that can be sold to managers who get paid to deliver a higher stock valuation this financial reporting quarter: variants that sell packs at a higher price point. 

Here is the logic then:

our players love many types of sets and many types of worlds >> we can visit more worlds and a wider variety of game mechanics new and old the faster we shift from block to block >> our traditional blocks last a whole year in three sets >> we can triple the frequency of visits by going to one set blocks >> one set blocks are the answer >> oh and the core sets sells like crap >> out with the core set >> we can quadruple the frequency of visits >> many variants increases collectability and allow us to make more expensive packs

So what do we have?

  1. Variants triggering whales into a speculative wave that prices out the casual player out of collecting complete sets. These variants and the products they are sold in canibalize causal products.
  2. Sets that live in their own worlds generating decks that are mostly one-set decks.
  3. Fewer products like Ravnica III to get today's new players to be tomorrow's cube builders.

There are solid counters to all of my points:

  1. If Wizards makes more money, it's better for the game.
  2. Look at all these worlds we are visiting. Aren't they cool?
  3. One-set blocks have good drafting environments (Eldraine, Ikoria, others).
So what is this fundamental failure? Today's Magic is for whales and it is not for casual players. Whales give Wizards managers a short term fix. Casual players generate long term income. Can someone in Wizards management tell the difference between long term income and short term cash grabs before it is too late? Let's hope so. This peasant is on another Amonkhet-like fat packs only break. When the next three sets of Ravnica get announced, can someone reach out to me?