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Pricing Mythics: Data, Dragons, and Tiers

So Dragons of Tarkir spoilers were fun, right? Yes, I do realize that they aren't quite over yet, but after an epic first week of spoilers and PAX East, the majority of the rares and every mythic except for one have already been spoiled. Some other rares will trickle out, and a few might end up being quite good, but we have officially reached the lull of spoiler season. We are still ten days away from the pre-release and we need some way to fill this time. So today we are going to be looking at how much mythic rares typically cost six months after they are released with the help of some charts and statistics. Then we'll use our findings to put the mythics from Dragons of Tarkir into five pricing tiers ranging from "true bulk" to "cream of the crop." Let's start by breaking down the mythics from the last six large sets. 

Set Price Breakdowns

So, looking at past sets, how many mythics end up bulk and how many maintain value? The following chart shows the six month price for all the mythics (90 cards total) from the past six large sets (Return to Ravnica through Khans of Tarkir). Give it a gander, and then we'll break it down.

Large Set Mythic Prices Six Months After Release

Mythic Price Breakdown by Price Six Months After Release

So what does this chart tell us? Well, starting at the bottom, we see that 33 mythics are worth $2 or less at the six months point. Let's call this group "true bulk." This means that more than one-third of all mythic rares (36.67%) end up in this category. Moving up the price hierarchy we have 18 cards (20%) that fall into the "just above bulk" grouping. If you add these first two groupings together, you'll see that more than half of all mythics (56.67%) are either true bulk or just above bulk at the six month point.

Up next we have the "archetype staples" category, which includes mythics with prices between $5.01 and $10. Here, we have 24 cards (26.66%), which at first glance seems like a good number of semi-valuable cards. Unfortunately, when you combine this group with the two bulk categories, it also means that a full 83% of mythics are worth $10 or less six months post-release.

Finally, we get to the good stuff — the top 20% of mythics. This includes six (6.67%) "true staples" which come in with price tags between $10.01 and $15, and nine (10%) "cream of the crop" mythics, which command a price of over $15. Here's a visual representation:

Mythics By Category

This data isn't all that unexpected. I assumed that most mythics would fall into the $5-and-under groupings, although the fact that more than four out of every five mythics are worth $10 or less at the six month point is higher than I expected. However, the most surprising discovery for me is for the high-end mythics: Once a mythic breaks the $10 barrier, it's actually more likely to be worth between $15 and $25 than it is to be between $10 and $15.

Mythics Grouped by Price

I promise I'll get to Dragons of Tarkir in just a second, but first we need one more chart this one to explore the variance between sets.

Set Average Price # $5 or Less # over $5 High
KTK $4.14 11 4 $12.99
M15 $5.58 8 7 $18.80
THS $7.32 5 10 $19.60
M14 $8.34 8 7 $25.60
GCT $4.40 11 4 $16.10
RTR $5.51 10 5 $23.90
Averages $5.88 8.83 6.17 $19.50

Looking over the data in this manner, we see there are two sets with abnormally high mythic values (Theros and Magic 2014) and four that seem about average. What makes Theros and Magic 2014 unique? The answer here is very important: the absence of a valuable rare cycle — namely, a cycle of high-value dual lands. It's not exactly groundbreaking that having valuable rares can decrease the price of mythics within a set (after all, there is a finite amount of expected value to go around), but the difference is more pronounced than I would have guessed. The average mythic value of the four expensive-land-cycle sets is $4.90. The average mythic value of inexpensive (or non-existent) land-cycle sets is $7.83. This might not seem like much, but a $3 average increase is actually quite significant.

Furthermore, the number of mythics worth more than $5 increases significantly in the absence of an expensive rare land cycle. The four sets containing Shocks, Fetches, or Painlands support an average of five mythics worth more than $5. For Magic 2014 and Theros, this number jumps to 8.5. Obviously this sample size is relatively small (I might have to do more research on the impact that rare land cycles have on the price of a set in the future), so we need to be careful to take things too far, but at first glance this suggests you're better off buying mythic from sets without expensive rare lands.

Applying this Data to Dragons of Tarkir

Now that we have defined the five tiers of mythic prices and discovered how many mythics fall into each group (on average), all we need to do is figure out which tier each mythic from Dragons of Tarkir is likely to reside in six months from now. Obviously we have a few limitations. First, we are missing one mythic. While this probably won't matter much, if it happens to be the chase mythic of the set, it could skew the numbers quite a bit. I think this is unlikely, but you never know. Second, we still don't know if there is a rare land cycle in Dragons of Tarkir, let alone how good/expensive this cycle could be. As a result, we are going to run on the assumption that, if this cycle does indeed exist, it is not very expensive. Considering that we currently have fetches and painlands, and just got done with shocks, my guess would be that whatever lands exist in Dragons of Tarkir are not going to be Standard staples or expensive enough to shift the numbers. This could change, of course, if Wizards spoils a cycle of enemy manlands on par with Worldwake, but this seems unlikely to me. Standard mana bases are already very good and the mix of enemy and ally lands are currently balanced, so my guess would be ally lands in Magic Origins to go along with the enemy fetches in Battle for Zendikar. 

Finally, Standard is a fickle format, and predicting prices six months down the road is challenging (see: Mastery of the Unseen). We don't know what they format will look like in three weeks, let alone in September when Theros block rotates. So, in essence, we are trapped into evaluating cards in a vacuum, based on their apparent power level, the power level of other cards that could fit in the same decks, and on other variables that tend to impact prices. So while we aren't exactly shooting in the dark, it's not high noon either.

One last thing. All of these prices are for six months from now (roughly when Battle for Zendikar releases and Theros rotates). I think almost all of the mythics in this set have long term potential (assuming they dodge reprinting for two or three years), as they represent a supergroup featuring some of the most popular tribes of kitchen table magic including Dragons, Zombies, and Morphs. Just because I think a card will be bulk or just above bulk in six months, doesn't necessarily mean it is lacking on long-term potential.

"True Bulk" ($2 and under)

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Here are my picks for the bulk mythics in Dragons of Tarkir. The basic criteria for being a member of this group is having a red set symbol and seeing close to zero play in Standard. Casual hits also fall into this category on occasion before recovering post-rotation. 

When Khans of Tarkir came out, I listed Empty the Pits as one of my sleepers. I thought it could be a control finisher, or maybe a part of a Sidisi delve list. Boy was I wrong. [Empty the Pits]] has seen no play, and is currently about as bulk as a mythic can be. The reason I bring up Empty the Pits is because it is the card most often cited by people that hope/think Risen Executioner can be a good card in Standard. There are two problems here. First, playing Risen Executioner with Empty the Pits feels like a classic example of running a bad card to make a bad card slightly better. Second, even if Empty the Pits starts to see play, how often is someone going to make 10 2/2 Zombie Tokens as the end of their opponent's turn, untap, and think, "hmm, if only these tokens were 3/3's..." Win more much?

Dragonlord Kolaghan feels like the worst of the dragon cycle to me (although I like the idea of getting it plus another dragon with See the Unwritten]. Sure, a six powered hasty flier is nothing to sneeze at, but at six mana, giving the rest of your team haste really isn't exciting. At this point in the game, it's likely all of your other creatures are already on the battlefield and attacking. The final ability just feels bad in a Standard format dominated by delve cards, plus it makes Dragonlord Kolaghan pretty much a nombo for the entirety of Commander. It's not impossible that she sees one-of play in some fringe build, but this type of play isn't enough to drive prices beyond bulk (see: Pearl Lake Ancient and Underworld Celebus).

With Shorecrasher Elemental, it's important to remember we are talking about six months from now — a time when Master of Waves, Thassa, God of the Sea, and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx will have rotated from Standard. If Shorecrasher Elemental sees significant Standard play, it's going to be in the next few months alongside these mono-blue Theros cards. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx in specific has changed the way we think about mana-costs (see: Nightveil Specter). Generally, costing UUU is a deal breaker for constructed and a warning sign of an unplayable card, but over the past year-and-a-half, maybe for the first time in the history of Magic, having a mana-intensive casting cost has actually been a positive instead of a negative. Come September, however, we are back to the real world, and that's a bad thing for Shorecrasher Elemental

Dragonlord Ojutai is the card I'm most uncomfortable about putting in this category. On one hand, I'm not convinced this card is better than Prognostic Sphinx. If you compared the cards side by side, Dragonlord Ojutai obviously has the stronger ability (I think most of us would agree that Anticipate is better than Augury Owl) and provides a significantly faster clock, but Prognostic Sphinx protects itself better (pitching a card for hexproof is much easier than untapping), it dodges Elspeth, Sun's Champion, blocks Siege Rhino, and is in one color. This said, Prognotic Sphinx and Elspeth, Sun's Champion will both be gone six months from now, and there are some cards that suggest UW control could be a real player in the upcoming Standard. For now I'm going to leave her in the bulk group, but admit I could be wrong on this one.

As for Shaman of Forgotten Ways, this card might fall into the unique group of cards headlined by Worldfire that are either too odd for Standard, but so good in Commander that they end up being banned. I'm far from an expert on 100-card singleton formats, so I'm mostly going by what I've seen come across my Twitter stream and the fact its ability is Biorhythem — a card that has long been banned in the format. In Standard, it wouldn't surprise me if Shaman of Forgotten Ways snuck into some off-the-wall brew (there is precedent: Brad Nelson's Hoof there it is included Somberwald Sage), but generally these type of decks are lacking in staying power. Could Shaman of Forgotten Ways spike if someone wins a tournament with it? For sure. But sustained Standard success seems unlikely.

Just-Above-Bulk ($2.01 to $5)

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Our next group is made up of fringe Standard players: cards that either see one-of play in tier one decks, or cards that might be archetype staples in fringe brews. It can also include super popular casual cards like Clever Impersonator while they are still in print. Both of the Dragonlords fall into the first category. I fully expect Dragonlord Dromoka and Dragonnlord Silumgar to see play in Standard, but given their significant mana cost and legendary status, it seems more likely that they are one- or two-of's (between the main and the board), which makes them being worth much more than Wingmate Roc's current price seem unlikely.

Descent of the Dragons and Deathmist Raptor fall into the second group. I think there will be Standard deck that want the full four copies of both, but I'm not convinced either UG Morph or the Descent of the Dragons/Dragon Tempest combo will be tier one strategies come fall. At the same time, in the words of Lloyd Christmas, I'm saying there's a chance. As a result, the potential for 4-of play makes both of these cards more likely to have a Mastery of the Unseen type spike that any of the Dragonlords we've talked about thus far. The fact that both Descent of the Dragons and Deathmist Raptor have unique abilities make them difficult to evaluate. These are the exact kinds of cards that both the player and financial communities miss during spoiler season, only to realize once the testing is in that they are very good or even broken. So while my gut is that both of these cards are fringe, be aware that, as mythics, if they hit the big time, they will spike and spike hard. 

Archetype Staples ($5.01 to $10)

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

The archetype staples group is just one step above the most elite and expensive cards in a set. If things break the right way, it's not impossible or unlikely that these cards end up pushing into the higher "true staples" group, or even the "cream of the crop" group (see: Whisperwood Elemental. They are cards that see heavy, maindeck play in tier one decks, but don't generally have a home in more than one strategy (see: Master of Waves, Anafenza, the Foremost). They may also see a bit of Modern or Legacy play, but generally aren't big players in older formats — if they were, they would likely push past the $10 mark and into one of the elite price tiers.

Despite having the highest mana cost, Dragonlord Atarka seems to be the one Elder Dragon that has a chance to see significant maindeck standard play for two reasons. First, out of all the dragons (and maybe out of all the cards in Standard) Dragonlord Atarka seems to have the most synergy with See the Unwritten (possibly combined with Dragonlord Kolaghan for the combo-kill). Together they form a sort of slow version of the Dragonstorm combo since Dragonlord Atarka can't deal damage to an opponent like Bogardan Hellkite. Second, it's the only legendary dragon in the set that isn't completely miserable when you draw a second copy. Sure, paying seven-mana for a slightly worse Boulderfall isn't great, but at least the second copy does something, which is more than I can say for the rest of the cycle. I'm not saying that Atakra will see play as a four-of — seven mana — is still a ton, but she has a better chance than the rest. 

I'm not sure Dragon Whisperer is a great card (although it is my favorite art in the set), but mono-red is looking very, very strong, and it seems likely the shaman will have a home in the deck. When you consider we have a Standard that is full of large and expensive dragons, the fact that aggro generally does well in fresh formats, the plethora of strong red cards, and the fact that Dragon Whispered will likely be the best two-drop for the mono-red deck, I think it's even money that Dragon Whispered is a 4-of in a top 8 deck in the first big event of Battle for Zendikar Standard. Even though the Formidable ability is the definition of "win more," Dragon Whisperer is a respectable two-drop that doubles as an evasive mana-sink in the late game. Seems good. 

I've been back and forth on Ojutai Exemplars since I first read the card. At the moment, I'm in one of my "I think it's good, and there could be a deck that wants four, but I'm pretty sure it's not great" sort of moods. I can see reasonable arguments that this card is bulk, just above bulk, or an archetype staple, and my opinion of where it will be in six month changes almost every time I read it. On one hand it can't beat a Siege Rhino and it isn't all that impressive without a way to trigger its (mega?)prowess abilities, but on the other hand, first strike and lifelink is a solid combination (see: Baneslayer Angel). I could imagine it topping the curve in UW Heroic immediately, but the namesake mechanic for the deck rotates in September, so being good in Heroic doesn't help in our goal of pricing for the future. At the same time, if mono-red (which loses Stoke the Flame at rotation) is one of the the big deck at rotation, Ojutai Exemplars seems like a pretty strong foil to the strategy. Anyway, as for today I have Ojutai Exemplars as an archetype staples, but out of all the mythics in Dragons of Tarkir, this is the one I am least confident about.

True Staples ($10.01 to $15)

Let's get this out of the way right off the bat: I'm not saying that Narset Transcendent is going to be a $10 when Battle of Zendikar comes out in the fall, but it's not impossible either. Sorin, Solemn Visitor is seeing some play in Modern, and even he can't push past the $15 mark. Sarkhan Dragonspeaker was $40 when Khans of Tarkir released, and now he's $10. Jace, Architect of Thought was under $10 at the six month mark. Nissa, Worldwaker was back under $20. So dropping from $40 to $15 seems to be the norm for planeswalkers rather than the exception.

Glance back at the chart at the very top of the article for a minute. How many big-set mythics are over $20 at the six months mark? Over the past three years, the numbers is three. Three out of 90, which amounts to one mythic out of every two sets. The three cards that managed to pull off this feat were Sphinx's Revelation, Archangel of Thune, and Garruk, Caller of Beasts. It takes a lot for a mythic to be worth more than $20 at the six month mark. Sphinx's Revelation was the best card in the best deck in Standard, you could say the same thing about Garruk, Caller of Beasts. Archangel of Thune was a strong Standard card that was also combo piece in the best deck in Modern. This is some lofty company. 

Narset Transcendent is a very powerful card. Seven loyalty is a ton and her first two abilities have potential to be very strong. Unfortunately, she isn't the kind of card you can just stick in any deck. While she could (at least in theory) be the best card in the best deck in Standard (and cost $30 in the fall), she has the extra hoop of restricting the way you build your deck to jump through. Not only do you need to be in blue and white, but you also need a ton of spells. If you haven't noticed, Wizards wants Standard to be all about creatures these days.

While Narset Transcendent is very likely broken in the right deck, being broken in the right deck doesn't make you a $40 card. Cards that command these prices are cards that go in any deck in their colors, and maybe even make you consider splashing a color just to get their effect. These are cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Tarmogoyf, not cards like Narset Transcendent

Rant aside, if Narset Transcendent does have one thing going for it, it's that the other mythics in Dragons of Tarkir aren't exactly oozing value. Based on the assumption that there will not be a high-end land cycle eating up this excess EV, something is going to do it, and as a planeswalker, it very well could be Narset Transcendent

Cream of the Crop ($15+)

Six months from now, my money is on Sarkhan Unbroken being most expensive card in the set. Unlike Narset Transcendent, if you are running a deck that can cast Sarkhan Unbroken, you will pretty much always want him and he will always be good. He doesn't care how many creatures or spell you play and he doesn't need a spell in your hand to rebound to be effective. You cast him, you make a dragon. Next turn you do it again. Then the next turn you probably win the game. Either that or you just bury your opponent in guaranteed card advantage. While Narset Transcendent — even in the most optimal build — will only draw you a card half of the time, Sarkhan Unbroken will draw you an entire card every turn and give you a temporary Lotus Petal to boot.

Before you think I just don't like Narset Transcendent, consider the source. I play Miracles and Esper Thopter Foundry in Legacy. I play UW/UWR/or 4-Color Control in Modern. When I play Standard, I'm casting Sphinx's Revelation or Dig Through Time. I want Narset Transcendent to be good more than anyone (except maybe Adrian Sullivan), but despite my bias in favor of spells and UW cards in general, I am very convinced that Sarkhan Unbroken is the more powerful card. 

While I won't make you scroll up to the top of the page again, it's important to remember that the most expensive mythic on the list is $26. So even with all his power, Sarkhan Unbroken will be doing well to maintain his current price six months from now, although just like with Narset Transcendent, a potential low-value crop of Dragons of Tarkir mythics helps his cause.


That's all for today. Keeping in mind the typical breakdown of prices and the tiers we've been discussing, where do you see the Dragons of Tarkir mythics in six months? Do I have a card as bulk that you think will be a staple? Do I have a staple that you think will be bulk? How about the battle for most expensive mythic in the set? Is it Narset Transcendent, Sarkhan Dragonspeaker, or some darkhorse mythic that I'm overlooking? Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter @SaffronOlive. 

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