Ravnica Allegiance was the Gatecrash to Guilds of Ravnica's Return to Ravnica. If that sentence makes no sense to you, that's fine. In fall 2018, Guilds of Ravnica dropped five color combinations—Dimir, Selesnya, Golgari, Boros and Izzet—into Standard, and the next winter, Ravnica Allegiance provided the rest: Gruul, Azorius, Simic, Rakdos and Orzhov.
Ravnica as a backdrop for the cards is always an exciting time for players; since the game's developers and designers so often rely on color restrictions as a way to balance cards out, settings with a multicolor theme tend to bring out a designer's most interesting ideas, while pip-intensive mana costs simultaneously give developers license to push converted mana costs downward.
The idea that players want to play with and get excited about awesome cards gets a lot of press, but I don't think that's an accurate portrayal of what happens when Magic returns to Ravnica. People don't necessarily like the biggest and baddest spells, they like being able to cast the cards in their hand. Since Ravnican set design has to account for lots of divergent mana costs, mana-fixing effects are more powerful and occupy much more space than in typical sets. That's why people like playing with cards from Ravnica. I'll be revisiting this idea this week.
The ten best-selling cards from Ravnica Allegiance say a lot about Magic, about people's buying habits, and how predictive the two are in tandem.
Alanis Morissette obliterated my understanding of this word, but I think that it's ironic that the first Standard
Pro Tour Mythic Championship with all ten shock lands in it was dominated by decks that were functionally mono-color, with a literal mono-color deck taking the whole tournament down in Autumn Burchett's hands. (It turns out that Dominaria's pip-pip-pip rare cycle was really, really good.)
Autumn played Essence Capture in their MC-winning list, but Ravnica Allegiance's real contribution to the already-solid mono-blue deck was Pteramander. In a deck that had all its bases covered and only really needed an evasive one-drop that could carry a Curious Obsession to good effect, Pteramander fit the bill and then some, offering its controller a late-game mana sink on top of all that other stuff.
Players have tried Pteramander elsewhere, but since the mono-blue deck's heyday drew to a close, the card hasn't really done anything, and that seems unlikely to change.
The blue line represents the average price sold Pteramander sold at, while the orange bars represent how many copies were sold. The orange bars turn red near the beginning of October to highlight the release of Throne of Eldraine and the subsequent Standard rotation.
Pteramander's price vs. copies sold in 2019 follows a very typical trend—the card sold a bunch of copies, sellers over-adjusted, and given a new price point, demand dried up. Worth noting: Pteramander's price apex happened the week following Autumn's MC win. By the time War of the Spark hit, Pteramander's price was halfway back down to where it had started in January.
There is an entire cottage industry, dear reader, that resides entirely on YouTube and is devoted to presenting decks to viewers that are outside of the clammy reaches of the dreaded metagame but still competitive with the decks that reside therein. Pestilent Spirit has the type of cutesy text box that fits alongside otherwise crappy cards in a cute way that is very satisfying to people.
A testament to the art form that is YouTube thumbnails.
If Pteramander's price sold vs. copies sold chart tells the story of a card that was undervalued until it started spiking tournaments, Pestilent Spirit's chart is a great visual aid about how a market can correct issues of supply and demand.
The majority of content around Pestilent Spirit hit during Ravnica Allegiance preview season. Sellers by and large correlated content with demand, and Pestilent Spirit sold for as much as $9 before sellers realized that the card just wasn't moving. When Ravnica Allegiance became legal on MTG Arena and it became clearer that Pestilent Spirit Rakdos decks were not going to be The Next Big Thing in Standard, sellers adjusted their prices. Intrepid YouTubers saw the Market Price plummet and got to work on content.
Graphs don't show buyer personas. It's impossible to tell how many Pestilent Spirit purchases were speculative vs. how many were actually bought to be played with, but this graph shows something even more curious: as demand shot up, Pestilent Spirit prices kept going down. Demand stayed fairly consistent through March, but it had no impact—the price bottomed out and never came up to meet its demand.
Outside of a couple aberrant sales spikes, demand for Pestilent Spirit has stayed consistently low since June.
If cards like Smothering Tithe being way more expensive than their quality indicates is annoying to you, I present justification:
Early in the year, we sold a lot of Smothering Tithes (it's highly unlikely that they sold in unique sales, but that's neither here nor there). After another massive spike in sales around April, sellers decided that they were sick of getting burned on a card only playable in Commander whose rate can most charitably be described as "blargh." Smothering Tithe's price tag has stayed in the $10-$7 range ever since, and outside of a few relative sales spikes, demand has hit its floor.
This is how Commander works in a post-EDHREC world where you can look up your commander or even just its colors and discover that there are cards you simply have to play (to be clear, this is a good thing on balance; Commander, like Magic itself, is hilariously complex—anything that gives new players a leg up is good for everyone). Low overall demand on staple Commander cards is tolerable for sellers—they don't really need to adjust prices downward, even on stuff that's in print, because if you're building a white deck, the powers that be have determined that you need Smothering Tithe. As long Magic continues its upward trend, there will always be plenty of new players who need Smothering Tithes.
End-Raze Forerunners' price vs. sales chart is functionally identical to Pestilent Spirit's. Both cards got a ton of attention during preview season thanks to their overpowered textboxes—End-Raze Forerunners in particular evoked Craterhoof Behemoth, a card with applications everywhere—but there was simply no demand for them after context determined that they were, in fact, not very good. It's probably for the best that in the majority of cases, context trumps everything else, and that using historical analogues is not a wholly reliable way to evaluate cards.
In the case of End-Raze Forerunners, there's a lot working against it. Currently, Standard is long on efficient, powerful green cards. Most other places, it's just worse than its aforementioned forebear Craterhoof Behemoth. (To continue to go down the End-Raze Forerunners vs. Craterhoof Behemoth rabbit hole: the reason Craterhoof Behemoth saw even modest Standard play and End-Raze Forerunners hasn't is that Craterhoof Behemoth existed alongside bonkers stuff like Grisly Salvage, Deathrite Shaman and Unburial Rites.) The only other place End-Raze Forerunners exists that Craterhoof Behemoth doesn't is Pioneer, and the green Pioneer decks have satisfactorily demonstrated that they don't need it.
Breeding Pool's price vs. sales chart looks a lot like Smothering Tithe's but without the Commander weirdness.
This chart only contains price data for Ravnica Allegiance versions of Breeding Pool. The chart that groups all versions together trends identically but the numbers adjust slightly higher. The red bars indicate the week of the Throne of Eldraine release.
When a cross-format staple like Breeding Pool gets reprinted, the prices of all versions sink like a stone. In the case of Breeding Pool specifically, there are already so many in circulation, the prospect of more Breeding Pools in the market drives their price down as sellers compete to get them off of their hands.
It worked! Breeding Pool sales spiked hard, but by mid-February the noise died down. From here, demand for the card dictated the price, and density of top decks with four copies of Breeding Pool is a form of demand. Breeding Pool's price tag started its steady climb clear back in January, but after Throne of Eldraine and the wave of overpowered Simic decks it enabled, its price trendline gets much more erratic. Throne of Eldraine has also coincided with lower overall sales, context that exposes the tendencies of the folks doing the pricing behind the storefront: do you dig in and price to perceived demand, or do you dip under market value to try and lock in the sale? Judging by the relatively wild swings in average price sold post-Throne of Eldraine, it appears that both approaches worked.
In its day, Fires of Yavimaya was a pretty messed up card, powered out by Birds of Paradise or Llanowar Elves and used to good effect alongside cards like Blastoderm, Flametongue Kavu and Saproling Burst. By the time Odyssey dropped, the rules of engagement changed drastically: you either played Psychatog or you did a lot of losing. Rhythm of the Wild, despite being Fires of Yavimaya on steroids, did not enjoy a similar 15 minutes of fame.
I'm ignorant about how widely-known Fires of Yavimaya is in Commander—EDHREC says it's in ~5,200 decks, which maybe is a lot!—but my instinct is that the majority of people were not looking at Rhythm of the Wild during Ravnica Allegiance preview season and psyching themselves up for the second coming of Frog in a Blender. More likely, people saw a control hoser with Gruul's Ravnica Allegiance mechanic stapled onto it and were willing to pay $1-$2 to give it a test drive. That's why uncommons yield relatively unexciting price trends; the difference between the high and the low average price for Rhythm of the Wild is a little less than a dollar.
Glass of the Guildpact falls squarely in the Pestilent Spirit bucket of cards that appear really, really good on their face but can't find a lane contextually. Its price vs. sales chart follows an identical trend to Pestilent Spirit and End-Raze Forerunners. One of the biggest predictors of sales volume, if not the biggest indicator of all, is opportunity cost.
Glass of the Guildpact's price tag has hovered around 50 cents since February, so the opportunity cost is relatively low. Nothing's free, but as a spec, Glass of the Guildpact is about as painless as it gets.
The cards of Invasion block are so deep and compelling that multicolor theme blocks from 20 years later still draw inspiration from its file. The Mystic Snake to Rhythm of the Wild's Fires of Yavimaya, Frilled Mystic got a lot of attention from competitive players during Ravnica Allegiance preview season for its similarities to the oft-reprinted Mystic Snake its name alludes to.
Frilled Mystic's price vs. sales chart is functionally identical to Rhythm of the Wild's, which makes sense given that they're both uncommons that see moderate tournament play. I expected to see rises in both copies sold and price after Simic's breakout performance at Mythic Championship VII (highlighted on the chart by the red bars), but the Mythic Championship results had no impact.
When I used to write up Top 10 lists regularly, I'd invariably come across at least one card per week whose text box and rate in combination was so baffling that I'd come away wondering if people were reading the cards they bought.
The fact that Awaken the Erstwhile, a Wit's End for Virulent Plague enthusiasts, is the second-most sold card from Ravnica Allegiance, is plenty proof that knowledge is relative. Perhaps human beings never had the capacity for knowledge in the first place. Maybe all the energy and potential that some of the smartest people to ever live have devoted to epistemology wasn't in vain—maybe it's valid to really think about the nature of knowledge. We should probably remain skeptical about whether this whole thing us monkeys have constructed is real or if it's just built on flypaper, ready to collapse at any time.
The average sold price of Awaken the Erstwhile hasn't gone above 50 cents since January 22nd. In case you were still wondering about the impact of opportunity cost on speculators' willingness to bet on a card, I'll say it again: Awaken the Erstwhile is the second-best selling card from Ravnica Allegiance.
The real impact of Smothering Tithe is that no one wants to miss out on the next Smothering Tithe, so people are willing to overlook a lot of what made Smothering Tithe a thing—primarily that, relatively speaking, white cards are pretty bad and there's still lots of room in that color for Commander staples despite how long Commander has existed—and place their bets on any garbage, Commander-adjacent rare in print as long as it's cheap enough to insulate speculator bankrolls from the drawbacks that come with overexposure.
It's not quite Burning-Tree Shaman in quality or impact, but it's the best-selling card in Ravnica Allegiance, so it deserves to be unpacked at least a little bit.
The red bars denote the week that the War of the Spark trailer was posted on Magic's YouTube channel.
Did I imagine a really brief period in time where people were loading up on Immolation Shaman once they found out War of the Spark had a billion planeswalkers in it, even though Immolation Shaman doesn't punish planeswalkers? Am I imagining that? I have to be imagining that.
To be honest, I can't really think of another reason to buy this card. A mana cost of 1R has competition in Standard; Runaway Steam-Kin, Cavalcade of Calamity and Rix Maadi Reveler all play out far better than Immolation Shaman does, not to mention Fry, Lava Coil and Marauding Raptor.
Glass of the Guildpact, Awaken the Erstwhile and Immolation Shaman—three of the four top-selling cards in Ravnica Allegiance—can attribute their sales volume directly to how cheap they are. They're the penny stocks of Ravnica Allegiance. Maybe Immolation Shaman sold a few copies to Commander players who saw the phrase "an opponent" in its textbox, but for the most part, Immolation Shaman was purchased because its price point influenced demand. The occasional spikes in sales sustained through the year weren't the work of players who wanted to cast Immolation Shaman. They were the result of a different class of Magic enthusiast identifying an asset that, in their minds, cost less than its potential value. This isn't to place a value judgment on how to enjoy Magic, it's to lay bare a certainty: if you're curious which cards in a set sold best, don't look to tournament or casual play or even social media buzz. Just see which cards have the lowest opportunity cost relative to their rarity.
War of the Spark's up tomorrow. See you then.
Jon Corpora is in charge of content at TCGplayer. His name is pronounced "ca-pora."