Trade Routes – Investing in a Format Part Deux

Last week we talked a bit about making smart decisions when investing in cards for a particular format. More so, the eternal formats are often the most expensive and should be planned out the best. This week we should have a small discussion on realizing the relationship between cost vs. play that exists in communities where the selection for different formats is low.

Evaluating your community and the opportunities to play are very important to know prior to starting another format. Bigger cities that have multiple opportunities to play will usually still only have a few formats being played. Here is a quick breakdown of formats:

Standard/Type 2: This format contains the latest two blocks, plus a core set. Effectively, this format contains the last two years worth of releases. Currently, this format includes: Zendikar Block (Zendikar, Worldwake and Rise of the Eldrazi), Scars of Mirrodin Block (Scars of Mirrodin, Mirrodin Besieged) and M2011, the Core Set. When Innistrad is released, Zendikar Block will rotate out. This format is played all year at FNM’s, Grands Prix and Pro Tours.

Extended/Type 1.X: This format is a little larger and has been nicknamed Super Standard. Currently this format includes all sets from Lorwyn through Mirrodin Besieged. This is one of shortest seasons of the year spanning from November through April. Each year, a block will rotate out of this format, keeping this format to include the last four years of set releases.

Legacy/Type 1.5: This format includes every set that has ever been released (minus Unglued, Unhinged, and non-legal versions of cards). There is a strict banned list that prohibits play of particular cards that have been proven to be either too powerful or too restrictive (Black Lotus, Shahrazhad).

Vintage/Type 1: Less restrictive than Legacy, this format also contains all legal cards in Magic. There is a small banned list and a larger restricted list allowing only one copy of a card to be played. This is the only format that allows use of the Mythical Power 9 (Except Timetwister, which is allowed in EDH).

EDH/Commander: This format is relatively new. Basically, it’s a 100 card singleton deck with a General. The rules are very specific and this format is really popular with both Competitive Players and the Casual Community. This format has driven the prices of particular “casual” cards extremely high (Doubling Season, Bribery).

Block: This formats includes the sets from a particular block. For competitive play, Block includes the latest block only. Right now, Scars of Mirrodin Block is currently being played and the Pro Tour this year will include Scars of Mirrodin block. Last year, the only major event using the Block format was only available to Pros (PT: San Juan).

Limited: Unlike the constructed formats, this format is based around sealed product. There are two different types of limited, Draft and Sealed. Drafts entail taking eight people with three packs each, where each person takes 1 card per pack and passes it to the person next to them. Sealed format is one that provides players with 6 packs of cards and has them build a 40 card deck.

Aside from limited, the card pools for these formats differ, but have a progressive scale on which the older cards that you have, the more formats you can potentially play. However, as cards get older they do one of two things. If a card is super playable, the card goes up in value. If the card is not playable, it’s worth virtually nothing. As you get deeper and deeper in sets, the amount of “playable” cards become more scarce.

Therefore, a question comes to mind when thinking about breaking into a format. Whether you are a casual player who wants to play Standard or a Standard player looking to break into an eternal format (Vintage/Legacy), ask yourself this:

How Often Will You Play?

In Denver, which we can all agree is a pretty big city, Legacy is virtually non-existent. Yes, we have small crowds who play within their test groups, but as for sanctioned magic, we only have Vintage, Standard and Limited (with a huge EDH League running through the town at the different shops). The only time you hear about Legacy is when we have an event specifically coming to town for it. This causes a flood of Legacy cards after each major event and shops who have staples for these formats to hold onto them for months.

I use Legacy as an example for our local community, but some locations (like Minneapolis) has a strong community for this format. Effectively, this scenario can be applied to any format. Many people who return to Magic after a break will experience the same sort of difficulties when trying to obtain Standard cards.

Breaking into a format depends on your current card collection. If your collection is small, out of date with current standard or full of draft remnants, you are often left with very few options. One thing that often clogs our reasoning is the flare that goes along with playing a format. Many times a group of players can influence the desire to participate in a different format, especially when your playing between rounds or casually on off-magic nights.

When I lived in Wisconsin, I primarily played Standard. This was before EDH and most of the veteran players would dabble in Legacy and Vintage on the side. I remember on draft nights watching a group of guys play Vintage with each other as they waited for rounds to finish. The excitement of seeing a Mox Emerald being played was a buzz throughout the store as nobody really had seen one in ages. This inspired me to get my first set of Power. I wanted to play too, but my collection of Burning Tree Shaman and Flames of the Blood Hand would not get me there.

At no time did I think of the logistics behind participating or the cost associated with trying to play a fairly dead format. Over a few months, I acquired enough cards to play U/W/B fish. The group welcomed me in their playing, but I realized that they were not playing as often as I wanted to. Effectively, I invested approximately $2500.00 in cards to play a format maybe twice a month, and casually at that. Here was my original list (from 2005-2006):

What I wish I would have considered was the likelihood that I would continue to play Vintage regularly. To be fair, Legacy was also fairly playable as all I had to do was remove the Power 9. Unfortunately, I played Vial Goblins in that format, at least until Counterbalance became popular with Tarmogoyf.

So the question still remains: before breaking into a format, ask yourself how many people in your area play this format. If there is a size-able crowd, ask yourself what is the likelihood of playing these formats on a regular basis. Do these formats change often? Although Legacy and Vintage tend to remain the same, Extended and Standard do not.

To illustrate this, one frustrating aspect of Extended this season was the impending rotation that loomed over the tournament scene here. In Denver, we had only one Extended PTQ this year. The next closest were a six hour and nine hour drive respectively (New Mexico and Lincoln, Nebraska). There were no real weekly events run with the format and for the average player, they would have one opportunity to play this season.

Next year’s rotation would herald the departure of Faeries and Prismatic Omen/Scapeshift from the format. After the PTQ, I was flooded (I was working for the dealer) with people trying to dump their extended cards that were rotating and they took a pretty significant loss because of it. Unfortunately, they all expected this to occur, and weren’t surprised by some of the terrible offers on Prismatic Omens that I made ($6.00).

From a dealer’s perspective, I was okay with offering them approximately 40% on the cards that were rotating as I can sell these same cards to EDH players over the next few months. The beauty of EDH is that it uses good cards from all formats and those that are rotating out of Standard or Extended are still just as playable in EDH.

One thing to consider is the overlap that exists between formats. Although not as popular in EDH, Force of Will is definitely still played, but it’s a staple for both Legacy and Vintage. Wasteland on the other hand is playable in all three formats. Knight of the Reliquary sees play in EDH, Extended and Legacy, while Noble Hierarch is playable in EDH, Vintage, Legacy and Extended. Taking advantage of this can optimize what formats you can play in.

Other Uses for Your Cards

As mentioned above, one of the major advantages in investing in staple cards is the playability that a card has in multiple formats. For example, Revised Dual Lands are expensive and played mostly in Vintage and Legacy. However, you never really need a play set so playing with one to three is often fine. They are also starting to see some serious play in EDH. Because of this, the usefulness and play time associated in making this investment worthwhile. Although you may not have many eternal tournaments to play in, you can definitely use them in EDH on a regular basis.

Choosing which cards to invest in takes a bit of research. For anyone who chooses not to play EDH, you should really reconsider, it’s a blast. It also lets you play with cards that tend to sit in a box until that random eternal tournament comes to town. Other cards to consider are:

Onslaught Fetchlands
Mana Crypt
Sol Ring
Tolarian Academy
Gaea’s Cradle

These cards see competitive play in the EDH format as well as the Eternal Formats. Obviously the above listed cards are mana accelerators, but many creatures see play too:

Dark Confidant
Primeval Titan
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Sundering Titan

Certain spells see play as well:
Show and Tell
Natural Order
Mana Drain
Grim Tutor

Picking up these cards seem to be a decent idea if you play EDH as well as wanting to play Eternal Formats. If your looking to break into Extended, I would wait until after the season officially finishes and I would pick up these cards:

Maelstrom Pulse
Knight of the Reliquary
Noble Hierarch
Sovereigns of Lost Alara
Bloodbraid Elf/Qasali Pridemage

Making these investments will not only be useful, but will allow you to break into the different formats.

Breaking Into Standard

Before I leave you for the day, I want to point out a few tips in breaking into Standard. Just before the release of Zendikar, I had just returned to the world of Competitive Magic. I only had a handful of cards Post-Morning tide and I needed a deck to play. After analyzing the metagame, I decided to play Jund. Going out and buying Volcanic Fallouts, Boggart Ram-Gangs and Kitchen Finks seemed like a bad investment, but I did it anyhow.

After a few weeks, these cards plummeted in value and I was out 30 bucks. One thing that I should have done was wait the two weeks until Zendikar was released, and then picked up the cards I needed. What’s interesting is the lack of value that each new set brings. Out of every release, there is only a handful of cards worth anything and I should have just purchased what I needed specifically from Alara Block and not grab every staple.

For example, I purchased 4 Cruel Ultimatum for $6.00 each and by the time I played them in Grixis Control, they were down to $2.00. The same occurred with Ajani Vengeant. I spent $12.00 each on them and they dropped to $7.00 pretty quickly.

My biggest advice to those who want to make the leap is to buy the little stuff and try and trade for the big things. Certain cards are or were safe buys: Jace, the Mind Sculptor, the Titans and Vengevine. Interestingly, these are all mythics. Rares that are or were safe are fewer and far between, but picking up Stoneforge Mystic for $10.00 – $12.00 seems reasonable, though $15.00 does not. Making smart buying decisions will let you break into Standard with relative ease.

One other way is to buy the new tournament deck that they recently released. It may not be your play style, but it needs very little adaptions to make it competitive. Here is the list for Into the Breach:




To be fair, the Goblin Guides are worth over ½ of the price of this deck ($24.99). With less than $100.00, you can have a very competitive red deck.

Hopefully this helps give you a little more to think about before breaking into a format. Next week I will finish this three part series with what cards are going to be the best buys for each format. It will be more financially based than the previous two articles, but should give you an investment “cheat” sheet.

Until Next Time,

Brian Grewe

14 thoughts on “Trade Routes – Investing in a Format Part Deux”

  1. Rakalite,

    You’re right, I didn’t see the updated B & R, Now i need to go update my EDH decks =/

  2. I like how you emphasized the utility of certain cards such as duals in three formats / multiple decks, vs moxen are only for vintage and cube. Most people do not think about this nearly enough.

    P.S. Dark Confidant and Noble Hierarch do not see much play in Commander. There are much better options for both in the format.

  3. Well, I gave you a hard time for suggesting the Ravnica duals in Legacy last article, so I guess I should give you some praise for getting something right this time: you are correct to say that, most of the time, you do not need playsets of duals. Getting the first one is super important, because it turns on all your fetches; each one after that has declining marginal value.

    In fact, that is exactly what I did when I first started playing Legacy in 2005-2006: I found a good deal on a Volcanic island, traded it for a Tropical Island, and used that one Trop with a bunch of Land Grants and Onslaught fetches.

  4. There are of course some decks that need full sets of duals. Landstill naturally wants to run at least 6 and as many as 9 colorless lands (Wasteland, Factory, possibly Academy Ruins) AND multiple UU and WW spells. That deck’s manabase needs all the help it can get, and I wouldn’t play it without all four Tundras.

    (Well I wouldn’t play it at all anyway, but that’s another issue.)

  5. Thanks for these two articles.. I have just recently gotten back in to magic and I’m considering some tournament play. Although I want to be as competitive as possible, I also don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars. This has given me a idea of how to go forward getting cards I want without hopefully breaking the bank.

    Now all I need is my power 9…

  6. Tom, if you need some power 9, I have 16 extra pieces atm and I might be getting another 11. Of the 16 pieces, 14 are beta or alpha in varying conditions. lmk

  7. I’m looking to get back into vintage and legacy after being out of magic since 1999. Any advice on the best place to get a good deal on the power 9 or duals?

  8. Grand Inquisitor

    Milna – Unless you have some inside knowledge that I’m simply not privy to, I don’t think there is any reason Goblin Guide would be banned any time soon in Standard.

    That said, your odd comment is technically true, although so is the statement, “2+2 may equal 4”.

  9. @grand inquistor

    I was making a joke on the fact that everyone was disagreeing on things being banned. At the time, I thought it was quite clever but it turns out only I thought it was funny. C’est la vie.

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