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Three-Year Plan Update and Casual Rotation Picks from ORI and DTK


Just about a year ago, I wrote a two-part article about investing in Mythic Rares at rotation (if you're interested in some background, you can find Part 1 here and Part 2—which goes into depth on the three-year plan—here). At the time, my argument was that you should simply buy all the Mythics from a set at rotational lows (most casual cards hit their low from two months before to two months after rotation). This eliminates the guesswork of trying to pick good specs and acts more like buying an index fund than an individual stock. Then, you simply wait two-and-a-half or three years (which is a sweet spot—long enough for cards to appreciate in value but short enough that you dodge most reprints) and cash out. 

Of course, there are winners and losers with this plan. A minority of cards will get reprinted and likely lose value, but in the end, the gains from the rest of the cards outweigh the loss you take on the minority that get reprinted. When I analyzed Zendikar and Scars of Mirrodin blocks, I found that you'll typically make about 40% a year over the three-year period, with most of the gains coming around the two-year mark. While this might not sound exciting, making 40% a year is actually an insane rate, and better yet, nearly every set posted these results (Worldwake was the one outlier, making only 21.42% a year). 

After I published the article, there was one major criticism that people brought up, and that was that all of the sets analyzed were in the past. Was it really fair to generalize these results into current sets? The player base has grown, making print runs even higher. Basically, while we know the plan worked for Zendikar and Scars blocks, could the plan work now? 

And this was a fair criticism. At the time, the partial numbers on the original Innistrad block didn't look all that exciting, showing gains between 31% and 44% nearly two full years post rotation. While the sets were going up, the returns were looking more like 15% to 20% a year rather than the 40% posted by the earlier blocks. However, as I mentioned before, the second year is when most sets explode in value, so I was hopeful that, given time, Innistrad would end up posting good results. 

As such, today we are going to do two things. First, we are going to revisit the three-year plan and update the results on more recent sets, and then we are going to transition into talking about some casual cards that may be good pickups heading into the rotation of Dragons of Tarkir and Magic Origins. Talking about individual pickups isn't a suggestion to avoid the three year plan—actually, I prefer the index fund path to the individual stock path, and it isn't especially close. However, I also realize that not everyone has thousands of dollars to invest in complete sets of Mythic Rares, so if you are investing on a smaller scale, being selective is very important. 

Three-Year Plan Update

Innistrad and Return to Ravnica —Three-Year Plan
Card Average Mythic Value Rotation Average Mythic Value Today Precent Change
Innistrad Block Three Years Post Rotation Time to Sell!  
Innistrad $5.42 $10.23 88%
Dark Ascension $2.34 $4.99 113%
Avacyn Restored $4.51 $8.69 93%
Return to Ravnica Block Two Years Post Rotation    
Return to Ravnica $1.95 $2.62 34%
Gatecrash $2.12 $2.82 33%
Dragon's Maze $3.35 $5.24 56%

 

  • Innistrad shows the power of waiting until the new three-year mark. Last year at this time, when we checked in, the Mythics from the set were up 44% from their rotation lows. In the past year, they doubled that, all the way up to 88%, making the annual rate of return just a hair under 30%. More impressively, this is despite the fact that Geist of Saint Traft got hit by the reprint bug in the past year and lost nearly half of his value. 
  • Dark Ascension was an even bigger winner. While up 31% at this time last year, one more year of growth pushed the number all the way up to 113%. This means that if you bought all the Mythics from the set equally at rotation, you would have more than doubled your money in three years time. Avacyn Restored shows the same pattern, jumping from 38% last year to 93% this year.
  • Now, you might be wondering why you shouldn't keep holding past the three-year mark, and the answer here is reprints. At this point, three years post rotation, Innistrad Mythics have an very low reprint rate. Of the 16 mythics in the set, only three have really been reprinted over the past three years (Geist of Saint Traft, Reaper from the Abyss, and Army of the Damned), putting the reprint rate at 18.75%), while Dark Ascension has a reprint rate of zero and only 2 of the 16 mythics in Avacyn Restored have been reprinted. However, this is likely to increase significantly over the next year when the set (along with the rest of the block) becomes eligible for Modern Masters
  • As for Return to Ravnica block, things are right on course. The numbers mimic Innistrad block closely, so odds are it will be a very good year for the Mythics from the block. . 

As you can see, the annual growth of Mythics from Innistrad block doesn't quite match up with the two previous blocks; however, you are still making right about a 100% return on your money in three years time using the plan. 

Going Deeper with Theros Block

While I'm still a big proponent of buying all Mythics and waiting, I know this isn't possible for everyone, since the initial investment is just too high. As a result, there is still value in trying to figure out which Mythics perform best post-rotation. For this, let's take an in-depth look at Theros block, an even more recent rotatee. At this point, we wouldn't expect major growth set-wide—it just hasn't been long enough since rotation—but the early winners and losers can give us a peek at what kinds of cards post the biggest gains, which will set the table for our discussion of Dragons of Tarkir and Magic Origins

Theros Mythics
Card Rotational Low Current Price Percent Change
Purphoros, God of the Forge $5.80 $8.80 52%
Erebos, God of the Dead $3.80 $7.10 87%
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver $5.70 $6.90 21%
Elspeth, Sun's Champion $4.80 $6.50 35%
Thassa, God of the Sea $5.00 $5.80 16%
Nylea, God of the Hunt $3.60 $5.00 39%
Xenagos, the Reveler $3.80 $4.50 18%
Master of Waves $3.70 $4.00 8%
Heliod, God of the Sun $2.30 $3.90 70%
Stormbreath Dragon $2.30 $2.30 0.00%
Ashen Rider $1.20 $1.20 0.00%
Polukranos, World Eater $1.10 $1.10 0.00%
Medomai the Ageless $0.80 $0.80 0.00%
Underworld Cerberus $0.80 $0.80 0.00%
Hythonia the Cruel $0.70 $0.70 0.00%

Even counting the six cards on the bottom that haven't budged since Theros rotated, the average increase of a Theros Mythic over the past year has been 23%, which isn't insane but a very reasonable rate of return, especially considering that it's usually sometime in the second year that most cards increase significantly in price. If we disregard the bottom six cards (which haven't budged in the past year), the rate jumps even higher: up to 38.88%. 

If we spot check the rest of Theros bock, we can get a pretty good idea of which cards sizzle and which cards fizzle. For instance, in Born of the Gods, Brimaz, King of Oreskos—which sees play in both Modern and Legacy (albeit fringe play)—has essentially been flat since rotation. On the other hand, Xenagos, God of Revels is up 59%, Phenax, God of Deception is up 39%, Mogis, God of Slaughter is up 19%, and Karametra, God of Harvests is up a massive 73%. In Journey into Nyx, the biggest winners were Iroas, God of Victory, Kruphix, God of Horizons, and Sage of Hours, which have more than doubled from their lows. Godsend has increased nearly 50%, while most spiky cards like Keranos, God of Storms and Prophetic Flamespeaker have stayed stagnant. Now, let's look at another list. This list ranks the most popular Mythics in Commander from Theros block (based on data from metamox.com

Most Popular Commander Mythics in Theros Block
Card Ranking (of all cards in Commander)
Elspeth, Sun's Champion #94
Purphoros, God of the Forge #164
Erebos, God of the Dead #190
Thassa, God of the Sea #260
Xenagos, God of Revels #345
Nylea, God of the Hunt #357
Heliod, God of the Sun #392
Xenagos, the Reveler #462
Iroas, God of Victory #555
Kruphix, God of Horizons #639
Kiora, the Crashing Wave #652
Athreos, God of Passage #716

As you can see, there's a fairly strong correlation between being heavily played in Commander and shooting up in price after rotation. However, there are a couple of things to look out for. First, being expensive thanks to Standard play is a bad thing. Based solely on level of play in Commander, we'd expect Thassa, God of the Sea to be one of the biggest winners on our list. However, since Thassa, God of the Sea was a Standard staple throughout most of her life and even sees play in Modern, her baseline price was significantly higher than a lot of the other cards on the list. Second, additional printings can be a killer. While Elspeth, Sun's Champion has made some reasonable gains since rotation, the Elspeth vs. Kiora dual deck supply is likely keeping her in check (along with Kiora, the Crashing Wave), despite the fact that she is clearly a staple in Commander. 

So, to sum up where we are at so far. I'm still a supporter of simply buying all Mythics from a set like an index fund, since it eliminates the guesswork and is easy. Sure, you get stuck with some Stormbreath Dragons and Polukranos, World Eaters that bump along the bottom, but the gains outweigh the cards that don't go anywhere. On the other hand, if you want to be selective with your rotational buys (perhaps because you don't want to invest the amount of money to buy all of the mythics from a set), one of the best places to look for big increases is casual Mythics, especially those that see heavy play in Commander. So, with this in mind, let's take a look at the two sets that will be rotating next month: Dragons of Tarkir and Magic Origins

Dragons of Tarkir

Narset Transcendent—#633

Maybe the most surprising card on the list, Narset Transcendent is actually the most played Dragons of Tarkir Mythic in Commander, coming in at #633 on the Top 1,000 list. The problem is that Narset Transcendent is already around $8, even though she hasn't seen significant play in competitive formats.  As such, I have mixed feelings about whether  Narset Transcendent is actually a good buy for rotation. The upside is she's a one-printing planeswalker that dodged the dual decks, so there aren't really that many likely spots for a reprinting in the near future. She's not expensive or exciting enough for something like Modern Masters, and feels like an odd fit for other supplemental products. I'd be more interested in holding copies if she gets down under $5 at rotation and hope for slow gains—I could certainly see her being $10 or more in a couple years on the slow and steady plan—but at $8, I don't really see much upside, despite the Commander play. 

Dragonlord Dromoka—#787

Dragonlord Dromoka comes out on top of the Elder Dragon cycle, probably because people really, really hate to get their stuff countered. While #787 is a bit lower on the list than I would like and the downward trajectory from $8 to $5 looks suspiciously like Thassa, God of the Sea (one of the Gods that hasn't yet taken off), there's a lot to like about Dragonlord Dromoka going forward. First, and maybe most importantly, Dragons are one of a few creature types in Magic that get a price bump simply because of their tribe (another good example is Angels), and there are "Dragons matter" decks in Commander, some of which are five-color (built around Scion of the Ur-Dragon) and could easily include Dragonlord Dromoka. But Dragonlord Dromoka isn't just a dragon, but an Elder Dragon—one of the most iconic creature types in Commander (for those of you who don't know, Commander was originally called EDH, which stood for Elder Dragon Highlander, before Wizards started supporting the format and changed the name to Commander). There's also fringe Vintage play, not that this means much to card prices at this point. As a result, I'm perfectly comfortable holding Dragonlord Dromoka through rotation, and if it wasn't for my worry that she's simply too expensive at the moment to see big gains, I might even consider buying copies. 

Foil Elder Dragons

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

While the rest of the Dragonlord cycle ranks outside of the top 1,000 Commander cards, they do see play. They are also way cheaper than I would have imagined in foil, with all except Dragonlord Ojutai showing multipliers close to x2. As such, if I were inclined to buy copies of any of these cards, there seems to be very little downside in going for foils instead of non-foils. The spreads are solid (in the mid-to-high 20% range, with Dragonlord Atarka coming in at a measly 15%), and by getting in on foils rather than normal copies, you can minimize the risk of getting hit by reprints (instead of worrying about a reprint in any supplemental product, you just have to worry about things like Modern Masters and Conspiracy, since most supplementals have zero foils). 

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

At the risk of getting off topic, if you are looking to pick up foil Gods from Theros, now is very likely the time. While some, like Thassa, God of the Sea, Xenagos, God of Revels, and Kruphix, God of Horizons are already showing multipliers of x3, x4, or even x5 (fairly typical of Commander staples), Erebos, God of the Dead is currently at x2.18 with a spread of 21%, Heliod, God of the Sun is x2.06 with a spread of 25%, and Nylea, God of the Hunt is at x1.98 with a spread of 33%. There cards are all legit Commander staples, hard to reprint thanks to the Theros flavor, and as cheap as they will ever be. Furthermore, Theros redemption is officially over on Magic Online (although Born of the Gods and Journey into Nyx are still available for a couple of months), which means the supply of these cards has stopped growing. As more people pick up copies for their Commander collection, the prices will start to rise, and you'll be glad you got your copies on the cheap.

Shaman of Forgotten Ways—#856

Shaman of Forgotten Ways hits all the check marks for a casual card that will see major gains post-rotation. Its price isn't inflated from Standard play. It makes it into the top 1,000 list (and there's probably an argument that it's current underplayed, considering that people were calling for a preemptive banning during spoiler season thanks to the Biorhythm ability), and it only has one printing. The only worry is that Shaman of Forgotten Ways is the exact type of card that randomly shows up in a Commander deck and is extremely reprintable. As long as this doesn't happen, I'd be surprised if this one wasn't $5+ in a couple of years and possibly as soon as next summer. 

Other Dragons of Tarkir Notes

  • Sidisi, Undead Vizier is the stone cold nuts in Commander, coming in as the 83rd most played card in the format. Unfortunatly, the ship has already sailed, as the black Rare doubled in price last winter. While it could have more long-term potential, picking up copies for $3 is much less appealing than getting them for $1.50 a few months ago. 
  • Both Haven of the Spirit Dragon and Dragon Tempest fall a bit outside of the top 1,000 cards in Commander but will likely get an extra bounce from kitchen-table Dragon players. As I mentioned before, Dragons are one of the most popular (and possibly the most popular) tribe in Magic, so we shouldn't sleep on random, janky Dragons-matter cards. Dragon Tempest, in particular, has been climbing recently and is showing a really strong spread. I'm certainly pulling these cards out of collections and holding them, and it might even be worth picking up a few copies. 
  • Speaking of Dragons, I've held onto every bulk Dragons of Tarkir card with that creature type I've come across over the past year. While I'm not convinced it's worth actively buying these cards, shipping them off for $0.10 each as bulk feels foolish. The opportunity cost of holding onto them is low enough that I figure it can't hurt. If I can buylist them for $0.50 in a couple years, it will all be worth it. 
  • Finally, while it doesn't show up on Commander all that often, Assault Formation is a casual build-around-me that has some appeal. 

Magic Origins

Alhammarret's Archive—#382

Alhammarret's Archive is by far the most popular Commander Mythic from either Dragons of Tarkir or Magic Origins, breaking into the top 400 most played cards in the format. It's literally a slam dunk of Commander and casual favorites all jumbled together. Life gain boost? Check. Drawing more cards? Check? Colorless, so you can play it in any deck you want? Check. Barring a random reprinting in a supplemental product, I have a hard time imagining a world where Alhammarret's Archive is not $8 in two or three years. While I might hold off a couple more months to see if it drops into the $2.50 range at rotation, this is the casual Mythic from Magic Origins I want to own most over the long haul, and it's not particularly close. 

The Jumble Just Outside the Top 1,000

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

Magic Origins is unique in that it only has one true Commander staple in Alhammarret's Archive but has a bunch of cards that fall just outside of the top 1,000. Woodland Bellower is a really solid value creature for a green deck, allowing it to tutor up quite a few answer cards like Scavenging Ooze for graveyards or Reclamation Sage for artifacts or enchantments. It also has an abnormally high foil multiplier of just under x5, which suggests that Commander players are keen to the card. Non-foils are dirt cheap, at just over bulk Mythic prices; as such, there's very little downside in picking up some copies—even if it were reprinted in a Commander deck, it can't get much lower than it is right now. If it misses reprinting, it will probably be a few dollars in a couple of years; if it gets reprinted, you should be able to sell for your current buy-in price. It's essentially a free-roll, minus the opportunity cost. 

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

The problem with Pyromancer's Goggles is that the price is still somewhat inflated from random Standard play (at one point, it spiked all the way up to $15 and is just now back below $4). At the old price in the $2 range, I would like Pyromancer's Goggles quite a bit. Doubling spells is powerful, and although it is limited to just red decks in Commander, it's something that I could imagine seeing in a lot of UR spell-based decks. Unfortunately, $4 is a lot for this card—if we were buying at $2 a few months ago, I would be hoping for it to double up to $4 in the next year or two. At $4, I just don't see the upside at the moment, since the hold would just be too long and fraught with risk. Keep an eye out to see how far it drops at rotation; if it actually hits $2, it will probably be worth picking up some copies.

Finally, Starfield of Nyx is on my short list of favorite cards from the past year or two, so you should know heading into it that my view is probably tained by my love of the card. That said, picking up copies in the $2 range feels like a solid long-term plan. It's the type of card that makes people want to brew around it, not just in Commander, but in Modern and on kitchen tables as well. One of the things I like to look for in long-term holds is unique effects and cards that literally have no substitutes. I mean, take Mana Drain for example. Yes, it's amazing and the best at what it does, but when you're building a 100 card deck, it isn't that much more amazing than Counterspell, and while some number of people will buy a Mana Drain because they want the absolute best option for their deck, far more people will just pay $1 for a Counterspell and call it a day. On the other hand, if you're a mono-blue deck that wants to double up your mana, your options are limited. You pretty much have to get Doubling Cube or Extraplanar Lens, which is why these cards are $10 and $14, respectively. For my money, Starfield of Nyx is closer to a Doubling Cube than a Mana Drain—if you want to animate your enchantments, you don't have many choices, so you're going to be buying Starfield of Nyx. As such, I'm more than happy sitting on the white Mythic as the years tick by. 

Other Magic Origins Notes

  • The painlands are extremely popular in Commander, but they've simply been printed too many times to have any financial relevance. It's probably worth holding onto your playset from Standard, not for financial gain but because you'll have some place to use them, but I wouldn't run out and buy copies in the hopes of making a profit. 
  • Dark Petition is one of the best long-term cards in Magic Origins, as a Commander staple (#408 on the most played list) while also having homes in both Legacy and Vintage. Unfortunately, it spiked thanks to the Seasons Past deck a few months ago, and as a Rare, it's hard to feel comfortable picking up copies at $2.50–$3.00. The spread is super weak at the moment, so it could drop more heading into rotation. If it gets down near $1, it will be a solid buy.
  • Evolutionary Leap is another top 500 card in Commander, but the additional supply from the Magic Origins Clash Pack is troublesome. Counting on modern-day Rares to get a big bump from casual play alone is already risky, and hoping for an increase from a card with a supplemental product printing is borderline insane. It could still get there in the long term, but by the time it pays off, the odds are just as good that it shows up in another supplemental product, since it's extremely reprintable. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. The three-year plan of buying and holding all Mythics at rotation is working great, and there are some really solid Commander / casual targets in Dragons of Tarkir and Magic Origins (not to mention the foil Gods from Theros block). What cards are you holding heading into rotation? What cards are you buying? Are there any cards I missed that might have potential over the long term? As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive, or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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