The Superfriends are The Legion of Doom

That's the Legion of Doom headquarters for all you young whippersnappers out there.
Thanks to Evan Erwin for letting me use his image

http://wp.me/p5VSx-L8

It seems like a bad Jay Leno joke: “Hey, have you seen the price of Mythics lately? It’s like Wizards of the Coast decided that they were going to print money instead of cards!” Ha! Good one, Jay.

This hasn’t been the first time I’ve taken a look at Mythics (where I predicted that three Zendikar Mythics would be over $10 a piece), and most likely it won’t be the last. Now that we have two full blocks and a Core Set printed with the Mythic rarity, we can revisit a look at why Mythics are spinning out of control in price. Besides discussing on how to beat Jund, the rising cost of Mythics have been one of the hot topics of Magic lately. Paying $70 of a single card in Standard? Aren’t you glad there’s a Reserved List to protect such cards from losing their value in the future?

What, the Reserved List doesn’t cover cards in the past 10 years? Oh. Ignore that last sentence then.

The most recent hot deck in Standard right now is a deck called “Superfriends” which includes 4 planeswalkers (i.e. the Superfriends). Taking down the evil known as Jund, these 4 superheroes were supposed to usher in the new metagame where we aren’t supposed to be afraid of that evil deck. But to summon these superheroes to fight you have to bring the cash money.

Magic the Gathering Links for this WeekElspeth is $40 a piece.

Gideon is $50 a piece.

Jace is $70 a piece.

They aren’t superheroes but mercenaries for hire.

Say hi to your Gideon for me...

These planeswalkers aren’t the only Mythics that cost a good chunk of money; Vengevine’s $35, Sarkhan the Mad’s $25. Baneslayer’s $55 and has been a while. What gives? This is causing players fits to try and get these cards and make others wonder about spending $700 for a deck that rotates in a few months. What has happened here, in my humble opinion, is the fact that we’ve got a perfect storm of certain situations happening all at once. And with my own Superfriends, we’re going to take down the real enemies.

“…[B]ut come on, why is this an issue?” asks Jonathan Medina, expert trader and owner/operator of MTGMetagame.com who wrote his own Mythic rant a while back. It’s an issue because people still make it an issue. Bennie Smith on StarCityGames.com wrote last week taking a look at the prices of Mythics and the decks that run them. Bennie, is one of the people who gets affected by these prices even though he’s played, and won, larger tournaments. I know he’s not alone as evidence by the number of articles that keep popping up (like mine). Today, we find out what the issue could be.

“Initially I thought it was fun, and a good marketing strategy as well,” says Kelly Reid about Mythics. He’s the Editor-in-Chief of QuietSpeculation.com and Magic speculation guru who writes on almost every blog. “Two years in, I am beginning to have my doubts.  Cards like Jace and Baneslayer and Gideon are very, very bad for the casual game, and cause the barrier of entry to tournament play to skyrocket.” And all of this is true. One of the issues that Vintage and now Legacy has are the high card prices which makes it harder for newer players to try out those formats. If you can trade a Standard Legal card for an out of print Revised Dual, something might be a problem with the way things are currently valued.

Wizards walks this very thin line when they design and distribute cards; people complain when cards are bad, then they complain when the cards are too good. So goes the problem with Mythics; If the cards were just big and flashy and catered to the “Timmy and Johnny” crowd instead of the “Spike” crowd, then they wouldn’t be all that expensive because they wouldn’t be sought after. Most of the time the card prices that the secondary market creates are due to demand that tournament (Spike) players want. When cards are designed that trigger all three playing profiles (you Melvins and Vorthos, take a chill pill) the prices and demand tend to go through the roof. Akroma, Verdant Force are two prime examples.

The third? Planeswalkers.

Here’s where you’ve got theory number one enter the situation: All players like planeswalkers.

When they’re good, they’re really good. When they’re bad, well, MaRo never said anything about having to print bad Mythics. They reason that planeswalkers are so good in game throey is that A) you can get a spell like effect turn after turn without sinking mana into it and B) they are harder to kill. Mix these things together and you’ve got a dangerous concoction of hitting the Spike’s interest (where you’ve got card advantage) and the “casual” player as well (able to do wacky things).  Wizards really knocked it out of the park with this card type and has really done a great job getting that “Other Player” feel they were looking for. Of course, $70 for a free Brainstorm every turn doesn’t help things.

“Planeswalkers are really cool. I think they give the game more dimension. It helps keep deck building healthy because if you don’t plan to deal with planewalkers then you risk getting blown out by them,” says Jonathan. These cards are so well designed, that if you don’t deal with them, they can take over and eventually win a game. Some might argue that’s why they’re broken, but if you have any creature on the table and protect it (ala, old style Psychatog or Morphling decks), they can take over a game and win. The issue might be that there isn’t enough good Planeswalker removal cards at the moment. Don’t say that there needs to be a Doom Blade for planeswalkers, that’s just dumb. That’s like creating a card that says “Destroy target Mythic rarity.” Leave it in Un-Land.

“…[M]aking a constructed powerhouse card Mythic causes all kinds of problems due to its limited availability,” Chimes in Bennie Smith, “You Lika The Juice” columnist for StarCityGames.com, whose for-mentioned article has caused a huge discussion on the fourms. “In the forum thread for my column last week people brought up a lot of interesting points, such as how deflating the costs of rares makes it even more difficult to trade up to that mythic rare you need for your deck. Used to be you could trade 2-3 solid rares for the latest hot chase card; now you’ve got to trade a stack of ’em if you can even find someone willing to make that deal.” I recently covered the topic of how Mythics have caused rares to drop in price over on Quiet Speculation. But, that’s even if you can find people to trade away the cards in the first place.

People won’t trade away cards they want to keep. While that might seem like an easy concept to grasp, it’s one of the key issues to this problem. With fewer people trading away their higher money pulls (either because it’s worth money or they want to play with it themselves), means there’s less of them on the market. Higher demand (more people playing the game than ever is what Wizards keeps saying) plus less product (Being Mythic and the fact that no one will trade them) means a higher price. “Having an expensive mythic rare really puts me in the drive seat in for a trade,” says Jonathan. “Typically people can’t afford to pay for the mythic rare so I provide the service of trading the card to them and allowing them to use their collection as currency. The problem for them (and benefit for me) is that there is a cost for that service and they are at my mercy as I set the price. People are so nuts for these Mythic Rares that they are willing to really over trade for them.”

As Bennie pointed above along with Jonathan’s experience give us this glimpes: not only is it harder to get one of the chase Mythics, but people are willing to over pay for them. “$20 cards were tough for non-hardcore players,” Kelly says, “and now that Jace is in the area of $70, that’s just absurd.  As a dealer, I love it, since I move so much cardboard because of Mythics.  However, for the long term health of the game, I worry.  What good is a $70 card if the game’s players are getting disenchanted?” To be fair, Jace was printed in the “last” set of a block draft, so there’s going to be less of him opened.

No Longer Mint

The card doesn’t come out of the pack with a price sticker that says $70 on it. The secondary market determines the price with the all too common supply and demand issue. However, I think that one issue of such expensive Mythics come from speculation. When new sets are released, people want to fit new cards in existing decks which cause the new card’s value to rise; having a known home causes value. Sometimes new cards can spawn new deck types, which causes their value to rise as well. But when an unknown quantity card gets released, players and speculators don’t know how to react to it. If you own a store, you have to read how the market plays and set a price for new cards. If you guess too low, you get burned on losing your product on the cheap; too high, and you can’t give it away.

This is what StarCityGame’s Ben Bleiweiss said about Baneslayer Angel in his “Financial Value of M10” review (Premium article, sorry):

Starting Price: $9.99
Future Price: $14.99
Thoughts: Mini-Akroma. Baneslayer Angel is just about as efficient as a finisher (or top-end creature) as you’re likely to see, even if the Protection From abilities are largely irrelevant. While some say that this is comparable (even unfavorably) to Battlegrace Angel, the first strike ability really makes a difference if you’re looking to win a race in the air. Yes, there is a lot of single-target removal out there right now. Baneslayer Angel, though, left unchecked, will end the game on its own, no support needed. It races on both ends.

What sticks out about that review? He’s right on all accounts, but see those numbers at the top? It’s like seeing gas prices below $2. And while he was off three-fold about the future price, all the evidence in the past told him that it wasn’t going to reach the insane prices that we see now. And is there a reason for this price jump? It appeals to Timmys (An Angel, with beautiful art), and Spikes (Efficient creature). So, StarCityGames raised the price, and people still kept buying them in droves; this is how you get to a price on the secondary market. If I’ve learned one thing about real estate it’s this: something is only worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. If people stopped buying Baneslayers at $30, it’d be a $30 dollar card. But they didn’t.

Imagine how much money StarCityGames lost by pre-selling them at $10. If they’re $55 at the printing of this article, they lost $45 dollars on each one. While they won’t give out numbers detailing how many they sold at what price, they potentially lost a ton of money because they didn’t guess the overall hit of that card. Of course, that’s going to be a tough thing to do in the first place. Ben been doing this for a number of years, and I read and trust what he says, he’s much smarter than me at this whole thing.

So when Zendikar comes out, and Mike Flores declares Lotus Cobra to be one of the best two drops ever (which happens to be a Mythic), you’re not going to make a mistake like you did with Baneslayer, so you start it at $30. People buy it at $30, and complain that the game is getting too expensive. But something happened on the way to the next set, people didn’t play a ton with Lotus Cobra. Much like Baneslayer, Lotus Cobra didn’t really have a deck that was dedicated to it (Baneslayer found its way into 5-Color Control but was lost in the rotation). Eventually the price dropped to $12 because people weren’t playing it so in turn they weren’t buying it. Why would you buy a card if you weren’t going to play it? The speculation was wrong (for a time as it’s now seeing play in a deck called, unironically, “Mythic”), but people were complaining all the same.

Then came Worldwake with Jace and Abyssal Persecutor.

Both were “build around me cards” though some people were thinking of putting the Persecutor in Jund as another finisher. Both started at around $25 for the pre-sale due to speculation. One shot up to $70 staring in several new decks (one that he helped create) as well as see play in older formats while the other is still falling at $13, still unable to find a home. So goes the game of speculation.

StarCityGames decides to swing for the fences with Rise of the Eldrazi. When Kozilek, Butcher of Truth was the first card spoiled, SCG decides to do a bold thing: pre-sale him at $30. This time, they were going to beat the hype and they can always lower the price if no one buys him, that’s much easier than losing money from selling him too low. Hellcarver Demon pre-sold for $15. Kozilek “fell” to $15 and the Demon now sells for $5. Gideon on the other hand, started at $20 and is now sold out at $50. If people are willing to pay the price, these card prices will rise. See Jace and Baneslayer as examples. But how does this bode for Vengevine whose current price is $35? It hasn’t found a deck yet, but it’s a clear “Build around me” card; so far those types of cards has fallen in price after the hype. Just sayin’.

You might think I’m picking on StarCityGames, but I’m not. They’re one of the largest sellers of Magic singles online. They are one of the leading price indicators that other shops use to set their prices. If Ben decides that StarCityGames should do something, other online dealers usually follow suit. Am I quietly implying that it’s StarCityGames’ fault for the current Mythic prices, no. They’re doing a job, much like Wizards is. If you want certain singles without opening packs, you have to be willing to pay the price that they’re demanding. I may not pay $70 for a Jace because I don’t need it that bad, but there are people who do. Jonathan has a different take on it, “[I]t only took me a couple of months to figure out that you don’t bust packs if you want a card. Busting packs is the most expensive way to get singles.” No matter how expensive Gideon might get, you will end up spending more to open packs just to get him.

Wizards is a company to make money. If Wizards doesn’t make money, they can’t produce Magic cards anymore and we don’t get the game we all know and love. Players have complained that this is a “money grab” situation, but that’s less likely than you think. The decision to make another rarity makes sense in terms of game play (Mythics come up less often in draft), flavor (You’re less likely to run into a Planeswalker than a 1/1 elf), and function (By adding another rarity, card design which was deemed “too powerful” at Rare can now be pushed at Mythic where it can been seen as more appropriate). Wizards doesn’t see a dime from the secondary market. Sure, they care about it to an extent *Cough* Reserved List *Cough* but not enough to make it change their decisions to print a card.

Here’s the loose chain of events: Wizards sells boxes/crates to distributors at X price, distributors sells boxes/crates to stores for X+Y price, and the consumer (you) buys the single/packs/boxes/crates at X+Y+Z price (where the singles are now the start of the secondary market). Wizards doesn’t see any money besides X. The harsh truth: they don’t care whether the pack you opened has a Foil Gideon or a normal Magmaw, Wizards doesn’t see another dime. Sure, opening that Gideon might be more fun and I bet they would be thrilled to give a player like you the opportunity to play with it, but from an economic model, it doesn’t matter. Once Wizards gets paid for X, they have no ability to make any money from people selling cards on the secondary market. However, by having chase Mythics will cause players to buy more packs, something Wizards does care about and will see more money from.

“WotC will never admit to printing something just to effect the secondary market price,” Says Kelly, “and I believe them when they say that they don’t really consider that.  Surely they consider if a Mythic will be a staple card, and thus become a burden on players, but honestly, they kind of screwed that up already.”

A staple card does determine the format that you’re playing in as well. The past year people have been trying to deal with the deck simplely known as “Jund”, Black/Green/Red deck that doesn’t really need much introduction. But what’s funny about the deck is that a majority of it is common and uncommons, a few rares with maybe a Mythic or two mixed in depending on the build. It’s fast, efficient, and is card advantage. To beat it, you need to have cards that are hard to remove/deal with. Of course there’s creatures with shroud (but not too many with regenerate), but I wonder where you can find such cards.

Hi, remember me?

Oh, yeah, planeswalkers.

Besides from Maelstrom Pulse, Jund can’t deal with planeswalkers easily. Yes, creatures can attack them and you can aim Blighting at the planeswalker, but you lose some of the advantage of doing that. That’s why “The Superfriends” can do so well, there are not many targets for Jund to deal with so a lot of its removal suite is useless. The more planeswalkers there are in play, the more advantage you have against the Jund player. Because everyone wants to beat Jund, there’s more demand. More demand means a higher price. And well, you can see where this goes.

So, you might think that this is the end of our “There and Back Again” tale, but there’s one more thing that I would like to talk about. I mentioned it before in my other Mythic post, and I’d like to do it again right now. Bennie has this to say, “[I]t’s pretty obvious how WotC is handling Mythics is still in flux. Alara block was the opening salvo, and M10/Zen block is stage 2.  From a company perspective, I’m not sure how WotC is evaluating Mythics’ impact on Magic during these first two phases, but I’d love to hear them weigh in on it sometime soon.”

Remember that we’ve had two years of this Mythic rarity and a third with the planeswalkers. Wizards didn’t get it right for the first couple years of equipment as well; Skullclamp was banned and Umezawa’s Jitte might have reached Jace prices had it not been printed at rare. They’re still trying to figure this whole rarity out. Some cards, which would’ve been too powerful for rare, might now see print as Mythics. This opportunity is giving them whole new areas of design that wasn’t available before. Progenitus, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Lighthouse Chronologist, all of these cards might not have been printed because they were too powerful as rares. Wizards has pushed the rarity, and I think it will be a little time before they switch the pendulum back to “weaker and less important” Mythics. See: Kamigawa Block after Mirrodin for that example.

In the end, where does that leave us? Mythics are expensive because they’re good, they’re in demand, people are willing to pay that price, they help beat good decks, players love planeswalkers, and there’s less supply out there because more people want to keep them. With this vicious cycle going, at the moment there maybe no end in sight for this high cost Mythics. It’s this perfect storm that’s the issue, not any one factor. I’m giving the floor to each one of my “Superfriends” with their final thoughts.

Kelly – “Bottom line, Magic is doing very well right now, and I think Mythics are mainly detrimental to the game.  They don’t really need a ploy to sell more cards, and the rarity is useful for Limited, but not necessary.  I’m fine if they stick around, but I’d like to see them gone.  Accessibility is much more important than anything else, and it’s what helps drive the longevity of the game.”

Jonathan – “I guess the best way to describe how I feel about it is, indifferent. When I need a card, I devote the same amount of focus to getting it whether it’s a common or a mythic. For collection purposes I view all the cards the same, either I need it or I don’t. This type of attitude comes from playing eternal formats, where you don’t have the luxury of getting all worked up over prices.”

Bennie – “Magic isn’t a cheap hobby, but it’s a great game and a lot of people really enjoy it, so [Wizards] want players to continue thinking it’s worth their money to invest in their product.  As evident in the flurry of forum posts, this new era of chase Mythics is changing the way people buy & enjoy Magic, and sometimes not in a positive way; some are even walking away tournament Magic or leaving the game altogether.  As a long-time fan of Magic, this concerns me– I want to be playing Magic in a nursing home some day with my great-grandkids!  However, I do have faith in the current folks who make Magic– I think they’re incredibly smart, good at what they do, and very passionate about the game.  They have a lot of options, and they’re going to do something to address the issue.”

Wizards had the option of not printing the Mythic rarity in the first place. After all, it was only created a few years ago. Surely that would solve our problems if we went back to the old system, right?

Well, I don’t think so.

When MaRo wrote his much linked “The Year of Living Changerously” I’m sure that he knew that one sentence would get so much attention (after all a word was italicized in it). But amazingly I’ve tried not going to focus on that, at least not right now. MaRo explained several reasons why it was changed: to allow smaller sets, to meet industry standards, and to make Magic more accessible to newer players. Just like the new frames issue, it was a decision made for the better of the game. Rosewater said it best:

But, let me be blunt, we cannot, and I believe should not, bring every decision to the public.

And he’s right.

The people who work at Wizards only want to make the game better. Working in the Magic division means you like playing Magic and want to see it succeed. There has to be few rather than many to control the aspect of the game. While this decision to do the whole Mythic rarity wasn’t (and still isn’t) popular with the fanbase; remember that they’re making a game where a large demographic have arguments about who would win in a fight: Batman or Superman. Fanboys of Magic will find fault in everything because they’re fanboys. It doesn’t mean the fanboys are wrong, or that they’re right; there’s always something wrong with everything.

What we can take away from two years now is we know that good planeswalkers will fetch a high price. There will be some Mythics that will just be really good and they won’t be as high, but still out of the reach of some players. What can Wizards do to combat the issue? Simple:

Not what Wizards should do.

Reprint the high priced cards.

Wizards has the avenues to do it. There’s the Duel Decks, the From the Vault, and even, a Core Set. The more versions of a card there are, they cheaper they will become (which is why Ajani Vengent is not $30 as well because it was the Pre-Release foil). If there are collectors mad that Standard legal cards are going to drop in price so their brillant investment plan to keep the cards to hold value is now going to be worthless, you don’t get a say here. You already won the Reserved List battle, you can’t win this one.

Magic is a collectible card game. The most important word in that phrase: game. People stop having fun if they can’t play the game because they can’t get the cards. But you can’t make Wizards give the cards away, or they will mean nothing. This tightrope they walk is a dangerous one. But that’s why they get paid the Gideons: to make hard choices.

Much thanks to Kelly Reid (@kellyried) of QuietSpeculation.com,  Jonathan Medina (@MTGMetagame) of MTGMetagame.com and Bennie Smith (@blairwitchgreen) of StarCityGames.com. Sorry for all of the quotes I didn’t use from you guys, you had too much gold.

Oh, and don’t forget to follow Mike Flores on Twitter.

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7 thoughts on “The Superfriends are The Legion of Doom”

  1. I don’t know if mythics are the problem as much as Star City Games is the problem. Their ability to basically single-handedly set the market price for cards is primarily what’s driving the high prices.

    You can still go to e-bay and get the cards for usually 20-30% less than you can get them at SCG, but people still take their words on pricing as gospel, especially when it comes to pre-sales.

  2. I still don’t see why people would buy cards they want or need. I’m all for good old-fashioned trading, especially when I have friends that will trade something like Elspeth for Iona or something that doesn’t have the equivalent monetary value. I still liked this, though. It’s crazy how high some of those prices are…

  3. Ashling,

    That’s just the problem, trading for all the mythics in many of the decks in Standard right now is nigh-impossible. No one HAS any for trade–they either went to great lengths or were very fortunate to acquire them and don’t want to let them go, or immediately sell them to a dealer for a sizable chunk of change.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t play standard anymore without either borrowing a lot of cards (good for you if you have friends willing to trust you with a $50 bill every week) or spending a lot in singles. Older formats are getting more expensive as more folks pick up Magic, and Standard is getting more expensive in that singles purchases are basically required now.

    The other thing is that even if total deck price hasn’t risen (and it has, as far as I know), instead of a 60 small hurdles to get over in terms of acquisition, we have a lot of easy hops and then 15 or so ridiculous towering walls of mythicness standing in your way. Would you rather jump 60 hurdles or climb the face of 15 walls? Well the analogy isn’t the greatest but you get the picture.

    Anyway I’ve gone on long enough.

    Sleep time!

  4. Option I’d like to put forth, atleast on MTGO, is having a format with tournaments & casual play ability that has Planeswalkers (or maybe all mythics) banned.

    I forgot to mention that it should still be using standard cards, I don’t want format with mythics banned but all old expensive out of print rares replacing them.
    (Editor’s Note: Merged the posts)

  5. I’ll just list a few comments in an attempt to keep this short.

    1. I think spoiling cards online has a definite effect on driving card prices up. It makes them start higher and some of them just take off from there. Remember years ago before internet spoiling when you didn’t get to see card until you opened packs? It made things more interesting. Now people have decklists printed weeks before prerelease.

    2. I’d much rather trade for mythics/planeswalkers, but that means cracking a lot of packs. The last few sets I’ve opened 2 boxes per set and brought the singles to FNM to find that people who had the high priced cards I wanted weren’t interesting in trading for the regular old rares or playsets of “utility cards”. So the only way for me to really obtain said cards is to buy them which I refuse to do once they have reached the $15+ mark.

    3. Kids play MTG. Adults play MTG. Some people will spend whatever they need to in order to get the cards they want. Some people just want to go to FNM or spend $15-20 a week. I feel that my refusal to buy a case of every set precludes me from playing standard constructed. Not to mention the fact that after 3 or 4 years of sets you have A LOT of cards sitting around. The places I play at there is no chance of winning in precon unless you have the high priced cards. So I don’t even bother. This limits me to draft FNM only.

    Since the cards aren’t going to get any cheaper, changing play formats is the answer. Years ago I used to play in Tuesday night commons only. For that you have to use your brain instead of your wallet and the playing field is leveled (at least monetarily) between an 11 yr old and a 46 yr old.

    If Wizards is saying MTG is more popular than ever, then they have a reason to create formats that will cater to the most hardcore, competitive, and deep pocketed players, as well as kids with a $10 per week allowance or someone who feels spending the same amount for one card as a tank of gas or a trip to the supermarket doesn’t make sense. Let the cards be rare, let them cost 30-50-75 dollars, but don’t make it necessary for me to have them just so I can feel like I can play and win at any level.

  6. Great article once again. Very well sourced. I am never going to want to pay for a ‘superfriends’ deck. The dominance of Jund (just dont wanna play it) and the price on jace….

    well, my lack of talent alone isn’t the only reason why i do not try to compete. i like constructing decks but… it’s a bit deflating.

    looks like i better improve at drafting fast.

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