Picking out the good cards in a new set is hard. Like, really hard. Telling your buddies that [Insert Card Here] is busted is all well and good, but did you believe it enough to go buy some immediately? If not, when do you pull the trigger? When do you put your money where your mouth is?
Today, I want to talk about buying new cards, and how the timing works.
Let’s Talk About Experimental Frenzy
I don’t remember seeing any hype around Experimental Frenzy when it was spoiled. I don’t even remember hearing people talk about it in the Mono Red Facebook group I’m in. In all honesty, I probably couldn’t have told you it was a card two weeks ago.
There has been a lot of talk about mono red going into Guilds of Ravnica standard. Goblin Chainwhirler was the scourge of the previous format, so there were a lot of eyes on it. General consensus was that Goblin Chainwhirler lost most of its support when rotation hit, and the only red shell was going to be a The Flame of Keld burn deck.
As soon as Guilds of Ravnica was released on MTGO, you could see different results. I watched people play against several mono red decks on stream, and Experimental Frenzy provided access to an insane amount of cards. I watched enchantment removal coming in against decks where it was the only target.
On Wednesday, the MTGO published decklists has three decks with Experimental Frenzy, and an additional four with it in the sideboard. Additionally, we got the first deck clearly designed to use Experimental Frenzy as an engine. I’m a little surprised not to see Wizard’s Lightning, but this deck clearly wants to play half a dozen cards off the top of the deck. Experimental Frenzy was $1.25 on this website.
4 Dismissive Pyromancer 4 Ghitu Lavarunner 4 Goblin Chainwhirler 4 Runaway Steam-Kin 4 Experimental Frenzy 4 Lava Coil 4 Lightning Strike 2 Shivan Fire 4 Shock 4 Treasure Map 22 Mountain Sideboard 3 Mountain 3 Fight with Fire 4 Siege-Gang Commander 2 Shivan Fire 3 Rekindling Phoenix
On Friday, the GAM podcast came out. Gerry Thompson and Bryan Gottlieb spent fifty minutes singing the praises of Experimental Frenzy and Find // Finality. Experimental Frenzy was $1.45 on this website.
On Saturday, the first SCG Open was streamed. Mono red looked fantastic on camera, and the commentators spent quite a while talking about it.
On Sunday, Experimental Frenzy was sold out at $1.45 on this website. If it gets restocked, I expect it to be around $5.
The mono red deck now costs an extra 20 bucks. That’s not a huge increase when competitive Magic decks can easily cost $300-$400 dollars. However, it’s a fairly large increase for a deck with a manabase that can come entirely from the draft land station. If you really need to watch your budget, this is a bump you could have completely avoided.
Let’s Talk About March of the Multitudes
Maybe mono red decks aren’t your style, so let’s look at another card. The window to buy in on March of the Multitudes wasn’t nearly as large, but there are still lessons to learn. I also didn’t track the price of this card quite as closely, since I didn’t expect to buy it either way.
March of the Multitudes preorder prices settled around $5 during spoiler season. There was some grumbling about the casting cost being a little high. Decks showed up with March of the Multitudes in various articles, but nothing that really stood out in the deluge of decklist articles at the beginning of each new season. These articles are filled with untuned decklists, and are barely worthy of being starting points for real decks.
Todd Stevens did write an article focusing on a token deck, but that isn’t the main reason he will feature in this narrative. He put his money where his mouth is and streamed with the deck for a good portion of the week.
If you read his article, you probably filed the deck away as a decent option. However, you probably had similar reactions to half a dozen different writers talking about half a dozen different decks. Watching this deck was something else.
This deck looked good. History of Benalia found the home it had been missing for months. Flower // Flourish looked like a tapped land/Overrun split card. Trostani Discordant and Venerated Loxodon negated the devastating Goblin Chainwhirler turns.
This was a harder deck to pull the trigger on, since it was filled with new cards. It sure looked good on stream, and I would have felt comfortable playing it at the SCG event this weekend.
If you really wanted the spec card from this deck, it was History of Benalia. There were plenty of decks that have picked this card up in the past week. Selesnya tokens, various Knight decks, the Boros Angels deck, and mono white have all looked picked up History of Benalia, and it’s gone up a good $10 in the last week. You might not have gotten that from just watching Todd Steven’s stream, which is why you should find information from as many different sources as possible.
Let’s Talk About Dimir Spybug
No, there wasn’t an opportunity to make money on Dimir Spybug. I want to talk about identifying bad decks to avoid buying cards you don’t need.
If you watched Todd Stevens play and win a bunch with Selesnya tokens, you might have been inspired to buy into the other deck he played. This was a Dimir Surveil deck that used Dimir Spybug, Thoughtbound Phantasm, and Doom Whisperer. He seemed excited about the deck, but actually watching the games showed something else.
His excitement was justifiable. The deck had a suite of cheap threats that could grow into monsters, and those certainly trigger memories of Delver of Secrets and Gurmag Angler. The rest of the deck was filled with removal, counter spells, and Surveil cards, which is an irresistible recipe to a certain subset of Magic players. The issues with Ritual of Soot and the creature base can be pushed under the rug, since the deck looks sweet. It’s even got Doom Whisperer, the most expensive mythic rare in the set!
Then the games started. Dimir struggled significantly against aggressive decks. The majority of the threats were vulnerable to Shock. Multiple copies of Ritual of Soot were usually required to stabilize the board, and that was an issue with the threats in the deck. Moment of Craving and Vraska’s Contempt were the only life gain available to Dimir. Overall, the deck looked like an underpowered mess.
Making that kind of analysis falls between difficult and impossible when just looking at a decklist. New formats are often heavily focused on aggressive decks, and Dimir Spybug and friends do not stand up to a wave of red aggressive cards. This is the same time that Experimental Frenzy started to surface, and Dimir can’t really do anything about that card.
All of this was fairly obvious if you watched Todd Stevens stream a league. If you read about the deck, you certainly weren’t going to get that picture.
Lessons to Learn
If you want to save money, try to form opinions before the first big tournament of a season. That is your best chance to pick up cards before the masses see them in action. The opportunity to buy Experimental Frenzy for less than two dollars closed sometime during the SCG Open stream on Saturday. The window for March of the Multitudes was only about a day after Guilds of Ravnica released on MTGO. Remember that there will always be a risk when trying to buy cards ahead of the market. You will miss some of the time. You will need to develop your own plan, since everyone has a different budget and different circumstances.
Get information from different sources. Everybody reads, or at least skims, articles now. If you want to stay ahead of other players, you need to do more. Watch streams, listen to podcasts, and keep an eye on Twitter for decks and ideas that might not have gotten sufficient attention in articles. In particular, I can’t recommend The GAM podcast enough.
Take a look at several different streams if you have the time. If you see people with decks that strike your interest, try to give them a watch. Just looking at the results isn’t nearly as useful. If you see a record of 3-2, you might think the deck is fine. If you actually watch the league, maybe the pilot pulled a couple Hail Mary topdecks to salvage what would have been a 1-4 record. On the other hand, maybe the pilot got the opposite side of variance on what should have been a 5-0 run. You really need to watch the games to figure that out.
Read articles, but don’t take their decklists as gospel. Prerelease season articles are filled with decklists. It’s real easy to make a dozen decks, write a couple paragraphs about each, and submit it as an article. Over 90% of the time, those decks have zero testing and minimal though into optimization. Feel free to pull inspiration from them, but don’t go all in on one of these decks without more work.
Keep an eye on MTGO results, but take League results with some trepidation. This sentence is linked to the web page if you don’t know where to look. If multiple decks have less than 10 cards different, we won’t ever see more than one. This is done to give an artificial diversity that might not actually be real. If you see something strange 5-0 a league, remember that it might be a fluke. If three dozen carbon copies of the format’s mono red deck 5-0 a league, you will only see one. PTQs and Challenges show all the decks in the top 32, which gives a much clearer picture. Be sure to focus on these results if they are available.
Figure out the balance between SCG results and MTGO PTQ results. The last two set releases (at least) have had a team SCG Open and a MTGO PTQ on release weekend. The stream results are much better known, since plenty of people watch the tournament. However, it is hard to know what decks are carried the team when you look at the final results. Try to take the results of SCG team events with a grain of salt. Meanwhile, MTGO PTQ results are often a step ahead of real life. There were some number of players that didn’t know mono red with Experimental Frenzy was a deck at the SCG Open. The MTGO PTQ was filled with decks to fight the decks that had been showing up online for the last week, including that red deck. If you want to stay ahead, focus more on MTGO results.
Know that all the knowledge you gain has a shelf life. I’ve referenced Experimental Frenzy approximately a million times already. In three weeks, that red deck might have been completely pushed out of the format by a new set of decks. If you figure out something profound about the metagame, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes common knowledge. When that happens, it won’t be long before you’re behind in the knowledge race.
It’s Sunday afternoon as I write this article. I spent a chunk of this article talking about how good March of the Multitudes looked on Todd Steven’s stream. As of right now, the deck is doing well on the SCG stream. If you look at the MTGO PTQ results, it’s nowhere to be found. If I had to bet, I wouldn’t expect to see many Selenya decks doing well next weekend, but I would expect some of the Golgari decks that littered the MTGO PTQ to show up.