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Fetches in Fate Reforged and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

I wasn't really sure if I was going to have an article up between now and the new year. I've had a bunch of family stuff going on and I've been working on my magic blog, plus we have been in the depths of what is traditionally the winter lull of magic before tournaments and spoilers start back up the in January (or this coming Monday, for spoilers). Then I woke up this morning to Wizards dropping not one but two Fate Reforged Christmas bombshells, and now here I am, trying to get this article finished before Santa arrives and I have to go eat dinner with my grandparents. As such, I apologize in advance if this article is a bit shorter than usual, but I really want to talk about fetches in Fate Reforged and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon while they are still fresh in everyone's mind.

Fetches in Fate Reforged

Now before you get too excited, we are not getting Scalding Tarn, Misty Rainforest and the other Zendikar fetchlands in Fate Reforged. Instead we are getting more Khans of Tarkir fetches along with more gain-lands (with new art) in the basic land slot of FRF packs (actually, more Onslaught/KTK fetches seems to me like another strike against Zendikar fetches showing up on KTK block at all). The precedent for this type of reprinting is Dragon's Maze which contained Return to Ravnica shocks in the basic land slot (along with new art guildgates). Now, the mothership article does not specifically tell us how frequently fetches will appear in Fate Reforged, but if things are similar to shocks in Dragon's Maze, they should appear at about half the rate as they did in Khans of Tarkir, which would leave us at about one fetchland every 22 packs, or roughly 1.5 per box.

Generally, fall rares from most sets are opened less and less as the block is released. Let's use Seachrome Coast and the other Scars of Mirrodin fastlands as an example. When SOM dropped, people were cracking three packs to draft, and six packs for sealed. That equals a lot of fastlands being opened during the first few months of SOM block. Once Mirrodin Besiged joined the fray, instead of three and six, the number of SOM packs being opened drops to two and four, and finally all the way to one and two when New Phyrexia hit the shelves. This allowed for the price of the fastlands to increase, as supply dwindled, but demand stayed strong as people needed their Blackcleave Cliffs and Darkshore Slicks to complete their Standard manabases.

The KTK fetches will have an altogether different ratio now that they are confirmed to be in FRF. Instead of the three, two , one countdown, we will be getting a 3, 2.5, 0.5 break down. The 0.5 comes from the unique draft format of KTK block: This spring the draft will not included Khans of Tarkir, but instead feature Dragons of Tarkir/Dragons of Tarkir/Fate Reforged. All of this is under the assumption that Dragons of Tarkir is fetch free.

But wait a minute, add those number up:

Seachrome Coast: 3+2+1=6.

Polluted Delta: 3+2.5+0.5=6.

At least as far as limited is concerned, adding fetches to the land slot in Fate Reforged doesn't actually increase the amount that are opened compared to a "traditional" set, it just brings it in-line with, for example, the fastlands from Scars. Even when you throw Zendikar block into the mix (which was drafted 3, 2, 0), the difference is only slight - with 1.2 KTK fetchlands being opened for every one ZEN fetch,  assuming everything else is equal. (Of course, there will be more KTK fetches than ZEN fetches overall because of the larger playerbase opening packs).

While its' not a perfect comparison (since there are ten shocks in RTR block, compared to five fetches in KTK, making any individual shock less-opened than any individual fetch), it's worth noting that the Dragon's Maze reprinting didn't exactly kill the price of shocks:

It's possible the additional printing slightly minimized the potential growth of shocks while they were still in Standard, but it's not like they fell off a cliff when the DGM printing was announced or when they hit the shelves.

What this Means:

Not much really, maybe the ceiling on KTK fetches (over the course of their Standard life) is lowered slightly, but remember, this change is simply brining the supply of shocks (as a percentage of set opened) in-line with traditionally drafted sets. It does not actually increase the ratio.

However, the very bottom of the mothership article does contain an interesting tidbit of financially relevant information: "Certain languages—Korean, Portuguese, Chinese (Traditional), and Russian—will also contain basic lands in this slot at a high frequency alongside nonbasic lands, as Fate Reforged basic lands will not otherwise be printed in those languages." This means that foreign languages fetches (and especially the ever-popular foreign foil fetches) will be even rarer when compared to their English counterparts. This was already an attractive place to be over the long-term, and investing in Korean and Russian fetches in specific looks even more attractive now.

All in all, don't sell your fetches, this slight increase in supply seems very unlikely to outweigh the demand for some of the best and most important lands in eternal formats.

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

If Karn Liberated and Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker had a baby, and the baby would be a massive spiritual dragon and this is what it would look like. I have no idea how playable Ugin, the Spirit Dragon will be. Once (if?) you get Ugin, the Spirit Dragon on the battlefield, what you get is a repeatable Ghostfire, a strange colored-card hating pseudo-Perilous Vault, and a reverse Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker as a surprisingly achievable ultimate (only two turns of plus'ing). All if which seems fine, if not generally worse than Karn Liberated.

Speaking of Karn, his price trajectory, at least during Standard, seems like a good place to start in discussing Ugin, the Spirit Dragon:

Starting off with a massive pre-order price tag of nearly $50, Karn Liberated swiftly fell to $15, where it stayed for its entire Standard life. It wasn't until after rotation — when Modern players realized that casting Karn Liberated on turn three off of Urza's Mine and friends was good — that Karn's price began to increase.

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon costs eight colorless mana to cast, which to me suggests two things: First, and most obviously, Wizards really tried hard to make Ugin a mirror image of Nicol Bolas, Planewalker (idea for the upcoming Magic movie: Ugin as Puff the Friendly Dragon), and maybe this is the end of the story (although, they have shown the the past that mana costs are fair game in such situations; see: Darksteel Colossus and Blightsteel Colossus). It also seems likely that having a converted mana cost of eight instead of seven (like Karn) was also a conscious choice to keep Modern Tron from having access to eight Karns on turn three. Sure, if you compare ability-to-ability Ugin, the Spirit Dragon seems worse than Karn Liberated almost across the board, but a bad Karn is still a Karn, and the need to draw both Urza-Tron (or enablers like Expedition Map to assemble it) and a Karn in the first 10 cards is probably the biggest weakness of the deck. With eight Karns, this un-fun and generally game-winning sequence becomes all too common, which may be a reason for putting Ugin at eight.

In Standard it's hard to imagine Ugin, the Spirit Dragon seeing much play right away, apart from a deck like Mono-Green Devotion where it provides another relevant thing to do with the oodles of mana the deck can produce. It could be a control finisher, but this would likely require a rebuild of a deck like UB Control away from Perilous Valut and towards Crux of Fate or even the Esper route for End Hostilities.

What this Means:

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is flashy and cool and will no-doubt preorder for way, way more money than it is actually worth. I'm not sold on its Standard playability. When you read this string of words - small-set-mythic-colorless-dragon-planeswalker - it's hard to imaging it not being a massive hit on the EDH tables and in the casual market. I mean, just dragon and planeswalker is probably enough on its own, with dragon being the most popular creature type in the game and planeswalkers being, well, planewalkers.

Over the long term, even without competitive play, this seems like a card that every casual and EDH player will want, along with generating some fringe demand from dragon- and planeswalker-collectors. Sure, there is always a risk of reprinting, especially in the all-too-predicatble "Nicol Bolas/Sarkhan vs. Ugin" dual deck next winter, but you can always cross your finger and hope for the best.

That's all for today. As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter @SaffronOlive. I'll be around a lot over the next two weeks keeping you up to date on all the latest and greatest in FRF spoilers.

Until next time, have enjoy the holidays, be safe, hit up some cube drafts is you have the time, and please, please, please, don't pre-order Ugin for $40 or sell your fetches.

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