Evolving Wilds

“If they don’t reprint enemy fetches in Battle for Zendikar, the community will riot.”

– Stefano Black, 8/4/2015

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Warm Wednesday, fellow dice-bedazzled ~*~*MTG Financiers*~*~. This week on Bargaining Table, we Interrupt your regularly scheduled brogramming for an emergency Special Report. The topic I hinted about at the end of last week’s column is still coming, and it should be both fun and practical. Right now, however, there are more pressing events to reflect on.

You probably already know what I’m talking about: for better or worse, there will be no reprint of Zendikar‘s fetchlands in Battle for Zendikar. This has already caused huge shifts in the Magic market, and more broadly, it serves as an excellent gateway into reconsidering a number of our beliefs and assumptions — which, it turns out, we made up.

As a matter of fact, as my mind has slowly unpacked it throughout the past week, I’ve realized that this turn of events effectively ties together several of the most important points and themes of this column so far. So before we get into what this announcement means for the future, I’d like to take a moment and review through this extraplanar lens.

Shuffle. Cut? Untap.

 

PREVIOUSLY, ON BARGAINING TABLE

Scalding Tarn

The irony now is rich. Scalding, even.

Last Tuesday, I saved the final draft of my incendiary piece condemning the abuse of information gaps in trading, scheduled it for publication that night, and promptly went out to trade at an event — and got hustled on an information gap.

Of several trades I made that evening, the largest involved trading down three Scalding Tarns into a variety of smaller staples, ranging from a Den Protector and a Collected Company up to an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, an Omniscience, and a Lorwyn Cryptic Command.

(Most of these are still in my binder, in case you happen to need something…)

Myriad Landscape

I don’t feel terrible about the value I got from that trade; after all, I don’t make trades that are poor based on the information I do have. I gained a diverse array of cards with reasonable demand and some with solid cash liquidity, mostly below retail; I negotiated the value of my Tarns up to a premium for trading them down; and I turned that Ugin over in my very next trade for another variety of useful cards at buylist.

But I could tell something was off. The guy I was trading with seemed twitchy. He stood up the whole time, while I sat, and at no time did he appear relaxed. I actually thought that he was afraid of getting hustled; I took my time doing the math, as I tend to do, and every few minutes I found myself expressing some version of “I don’t know, the numbers add up but it still doesn’t feel good.” I try not to apply pressure, but I also make no secret of what I consider worthwhile and what I don’t.

Except that each time, he eagerly found some other decent card to throw in and continued anxiously pushing for the trade. That should have been a warning sign to me, but for extra irony, I was still concerned about my Tarns crashing due to a potential reprint announcement — which I imagined was looming just overhead, waiting to strike at any moment. People observing were chatting about the ZEN fetches and how they could be reprinted in a Commander product instead of a Standard-legal set, but I thought it was just wild speculation.

I hadn’t heard that day’s announcement about the enemy-colored Commander decks yet — because I’d been busy writing Bargaining Table. ~*~*~*Value*~*~*~.

Bad River

I’m lazy about keeping up with news anyway, so consider this a cautionary tale on several axes. Again, I did get objective value on my investment. But it still feels dirty knowing that someone was standing there acting friendly with me for half an hour, having heard a piece of news and a line of speculation he could tell I hadn’t, and anxiously trying to get one over on me. And as we discussed last week, I will remember that, if and when I see that player again.

Oh, and my fourth Tarn?

It sold on TCGPlayer within about two minutes of the email I got regarding the announcement, before I even remembered to go de-list it.

Shuffle. Cut? Untap.

 

FAILURE TO FIND

Ghost Quarter

Until last Wednesday, as I’m sure was the case for many of you as well, I was — in my own words — “99% certain” the Zendikar fetches would be coming back in Battle for Zendikar.

(It only made sense! It’s a natural player expectation for a return to Zendikar! It would help balance Standard!)

Sure, I had been wrong before: I had once thought they might appear in Dragons of Tarkir.

(It only made sense! It’s a natural player expectation after Khans featured the Onslaught fetches! It would help balance Block Constructed — which MaRo has previously said was a reason to stop doing incomplete cycles of dual lands!)

Then they (basically) announced that Block Constructed didn’t exist anymore.

Then they announced that blocks would only have two sets from now on.

Rocky Tar Pit

But that had been more like a 75% guess. Once that didn’t pan out, this was 99%! A near-total lock, to the point where I was reluctant to buy those Tarns at all (or the Misties and Verdants that came with them) for fear of having to work hard just to break even on the buy.

But we don’t walk a plane of certainties. We deal in an unregulated commodity the production of which is solely controlled by a single entity — and the value of which is subject to massive transformations at the behest of the capricious temperaments of gamers and the equally unpredictable business and creative decisions of one company.

As in physics, upon the closest scrutiny, all rules dissolve and give way to the one true Legendary God, who is Chaos — and all forces are subject to the influence of observation.

Terramorphic Expanse

In many ways, this ties back to a number of themes from my (surprisingly well received) tirade against speculation. As I keep saying (and as I should have said in that very piece): why buy something for a dollar hoping that it will be worth five tomorrow, when you could spend that dollar on something that’s already worth three?

Or in this case: why spend $60 on something that could be worth $80 tomorrow, when you could spend that $60 on something that’s already worth a hundred?

Of course, with that said, this is a situation where short-term speculators may have won. What I wonder, though, is how many of those Scalding Tarns purchased at $50-60 — like the one that was bought from me — are really being sold at the new $70-80 price tag. And whether enough of them will have been resold, per speculator, to make the investment worth it. Spending $60 to make $10-20 before fees and shipping is a pretty thin margin.

Shuffle. Cut? Untap.

 

I’LL JUST GET A BASIC THIS TIME

Terminal Moraine

But, okay. You came here for hard, fast ~*MTG Finance*~ advice. Let’s look at the future.

Our starting point: the Zendikar fetchlands do have to be reprinted at some point, if for no other reason than the health and growth of Modern, which WotC has presented as a very high priority for some time now.

Second assumption, since we’re all already speculating there will be a Modern Masters 3 in two years: we can probably assume that that’s too long for WotC to expect everyone to wait. I would hope this assumption is correct, but at this point, no assumption feels safe.

So let’s sit down and think for a moment: what can we envision, specifically?

Thawing Glaciers

Scenario 1 — The Trickle: Enemy fetchlands are reprinted in the Commander 2015 decks.

It’s all but impossible for these decks to contain more than one fetchland each, so it doesn’t exactly blow the supply through the canopy. It will lower the price of the original versions for sure, considering the art will probably be the same, but it may not completely trash them.

Now, as we saw as a result of True-Name Nemesis, Wizards is willing to increase Commander print runs relative to demand…but they’re also willing to do so in lopsided fashion. If speculators buy up all the, I dunno, Jhoira of the Ghitu and Experiment Kraj decks, it’s possible Wizards could print more of just those decks and thus increase the supply of Scalding Tarn and Misty Rainforest disproportionately in comparison to the other lands.

(I suppose it’s feasible that this could happen to the, um, Iname as One deck, too.)

Most notably, if this is the sole source of reprints for the foreseeable future, it means that there will be no new foil copies of these cards for at least a period of years.

Flood Plain

Scenario 2 — The Flood: Enemy fetchlands are reprinted in the second set of BFZ block.

Technically, MaRo didn’t say they weren’t in BFZ block, just that they weren’t in BFZ. This is the universe I honestly hope for, as I believe a massive crash of ZEN fetchland prices is something the game of Magic desperately needs — and a massive crash it will indeed cause. However, it has been explicitly stated that all Standard-legal non-Core expansions must have new art for all reprints.

This means that, although the regular prices for originals will stay a bit higher than the new printings, the price of the original foils may not be affected that much at all. There’s even still potential for them to continue growing after the reprint, as we witnessed with original foil shocklands.

Bloodstained Mire

Scenario 3 — The Drought: Enemy fetchlands are not reprinted in either of the above products.

If this happens, then as soon the latter spoiler of the two makes this fact clear, there could even be a second spike — to heights unknown. If Wizards follows this by blindsiding us with a reprint in, say, the next block, then the crash will happen just as in Scenario 2 except with some poor suckers already bought in at much higher costs.

If they actually opt not to reprint the cards until, say, Modern Masters 3 or beyond, then three things will happen over time: prices will stay high (if not continue to creep higher), the community will riot, and I will be pretty damn glad I don’t play as much anymore.

End step, crack.

 

SOMETIMES I SHOCK MYSELF

Maze's End

To make a long post short: ~*MTG Finance*~ is the Wild West, an unregulated market ruled by quantum economics, where no assumption is safe. The Grind is a fickle Mistress, and all who disrespect Her whims shall Perish.

Profit is profit. If you’ve got ZEN fetches lying around: ship now, buy a collection, and ask questions later.

If you’ve got foils, it can’t hurt you much to hold onto them, but the same applies. Profit stay profit.

But don’t buy any more up unless it starts looking clear that Wizards is trying their damnedest to, uh, burn Modern to the ground. In which case, you know, maybe still don’t buy them.

Why pay one life, when it’s the only one you’ve got?

 


 

Join us at the Table next Wednesday, when we (hopefully!) return to your regularly scheduled programming and talk about the many and varied creature types you may encounter on your Quest for the Gemblades.

Until next time, on their end step…

Crack the Earth

 

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Stefano Black is an NYC-based writer, filmmaker, plainswalker, and cardboard-drug dealer. He can be found on Twitter as @StefanoBlackest, sharing humor, criticism, and Garfield-related poetry, and is available for hire or collection buying. He also unabashedly wants your money.

If you enjoyed this critical look at trading, try BLATANT THIEVERY: Community Ethics.

If you want more trading advice with a twist, see ACCEPTABLE LOSSES: Losing to Win.

If you can’t get enough ~*wacky*~ style and Hot Ass Takes, check out the Bargaining Table archive and give your Modern group Windswept Heaths for catching up!

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