Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pack to Power Day One – A Million Hours Remain

OK, folks, I’m gonna try it.

In this off-timed post, I wanted to delve into a fun Magic challenge.  Not a playing challenge, a deck challenge, or a building challenge, but a very human challenge. 

Every hobby, sport or vocation has an impressive goal.  Track athletes want to run a mile in under four minutes, a salesperson wants to meet a certain commission quota, and a competitive eater wants to jam fifty hot dogs down his throat without spewing acid and nitrates all over the place (well, that’d be my goal.)

Magic has these goals too, and they are just as diverse as the millions of players who play the game.  Some are simple, looking to complete that perfect deck or to X-0 a tournament.  This goal, however, is a little different; it requires patience, charisma, study and dedication.

The goal, and the process to get to it, is called “Pack to Power.” I heard about this “feat” a few months ago and, after reading Jon Medina’s primer about it, I decided to jump in.  This challenge is very simple at its core.  Get one, and only one, pack from the newest set and, using only those cards and the direct products of subsequent trades, trade for profit little by little until you have enough trade value to get one piece of Power 9, the fabled Vintage-restricted cards of yore, which, if you wanted to know, includes each of the five Moxen, Timetwister, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, and the legendary Black Lotus.

Cost: 71 tanks of gasoline, 1,090 Chik-Fil-A sandwiches, or roughly two-thirds of your left kidney

To complete this goal in as honest and satisfyingly a way as possible, here are four guidelines to which I will hold myself as I maneuver through this process.  For brevity’s sake, I shall henceforth refer to all of the cards that came from the original AVR pack and their traded products as “the Pack.”

The four guidelines are:

  1. No adding to the Pack.  I won’t use other cards I have and either trade with myself or simply add to the Pack.  The cards that end up in there are solely original pack cards and trades made ONLY with those cards and their products. This also limits my trades to table stakes; no cash trades; no cash for their cards or their cash for my cards.
  2. No trading with a store or non-personal entity.  Most of the time I wouldn’t want to do this anyway, as they’re trading for profit, too, leaving me on the inevitably short end of the bargain. 
  3. No gifts.  Although this one is less strict, I will always trade them something in exchange for the cards of my traders.  The fairness of any trade is in the eyes of the trading partner, but they will always walk away with at least one card.
  4. Finally and most importantly, the nature of the Pack and any subsequent trades will be briefly explained to a potential trader.  Trading for profit during each transaction is the modus operandi of the Pack, and I want the trader to know that.  I don’t want to con a new player out of their powerful Constructed cards for my dubious offering unless they are already comfortable with the trade.  People play Magic for different reasons, and a card that I don’t find valuable may be very valuable for them and vice-versa.  In fact, this truth is paramount to the success of any trading challenge.  The point is that I’m not trying to claw my way to the top here; the real challenge of this endeavor is that everyone walks away pleased when they’ve traded with me.  There is no doubt that this challenge depends on the kindness of strangers and friends alike, and keeping this attitude will keep everyone happy.

Also, a bit of an addendum; although the challenge is called “Pack to Power,” I would find very little use for an actual piece of Power 9 (save the immense cash value, of course).  So, instead, I’ll be aiming to complete a comparable goal instead; I want a playset of each of the ten Ravnica Block Shocklands.  As they average about $20 a piece, a playset of each would run between $800-$900 total, roughly equivalent to most Power 9 cards.  There are three reasons I’m aiming in this direction instead. 

First, the cards will be somewhat easier to find and be more spread out; I can trade a bit of the binder for a Shockland here and there and slowly inch towards my goal while still using the Shocklands’ liquidity for other trades if needed, say, two Sacred Foundries for one Hallowed Fountain. 

Second, finding a piece of Power 9 is very hard, especially in my usual playgroups.  Most people don’t have a single piece of paper that’s worth more than my rent, so I feel this goal is more realistic while maintaining comparable parity with the normal “Pack to Power” goal. 

Finally, I’ve always wanted all of the Shocklands.  Ravnica was my first set, so I would love to own a piece of my Magic roots.  I never play Legacy, let alone Vintage, so a piece of Power is just dollar signs and bragging rights to me; Modern, on the other hand, encompasses nearly my entire play history, and these lands are the premium lands for that Format.  Even if they are reprinted in Return to Ravnica, their value will not descend much, shrinking to maybe $10-$15 per land, and to have a playset of all of the staple lands for any Modern deck I decide to build will be much more valuable to me.  I’m in no hurry, either.

I’m excited to do this for the same reason I like any restrictive challenge; I have what I have, and I have to work with it no matter how rough it is.  In a way, Pack to Power is like the Limited of trading.  “Constructed” trading lets you bring your massive, accrued card value to bear.  Like Limited, I have only the cards set before me and, with superior strategy, planning, and a healthy dose of luck, I might just pull off the win.

With that, let’s get started by looking at the singular pack with which I’ll start my journey.  My plan is, for each post, to post trades and monetary values of trades (in each direction), following Jon Medina’s example.  All prices used are from; this isn’t because I feel their prices are always accurate when considering demand, the real buying market, and their end-user business model, but they are widely and comfortably used by many Magic players and stores as a benchmark. 

On Tuesday night, I went to go play my MiRUcle deck at Something2Do in a possibly final blaze of glory, as I feared that the DCI BanHammer™ would kill crucial cards in my deck come their quarterly banning announcement this week.

After putting up an unremarkable 2-2 finish, I got a pack of Avacyn Restored, following Jon Medina’s example of getting the final set in a block (he used “Rise of the Eldrazi.”)  With my binder on top of their glass case open and ready to induct my recruits into my inaugural P2P class, I hand-selected a pack from the Avacyn Restored box and cracked, hoping it had even the smallest hint of value.  Without looking, I slid each card into my binder, only catching a glimpse of a black foil in the back of the pack. 

Here is what I ended up with.

Bright glare from overhead light is bright.
Gryff Vanguard
Dangerous Wager
Havengul Skaab
Abundant Growth
Driver of the Dead
Galvanic Alchemist
Timberland Guide
Farbog Explorer
Nightshade Peddler
Blood Artist
Gang of Devils
Commander’s Authority
Restoration Angel
[White Human Token]
Swamp # 236
*Foil* Corpse Traders

Wow, not bad!  This could have been a lot worse; I wasn’t going to buy another pack if it went bad, so this one had to be good.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I reviewed the picks.  Now, as Pack to Power is primarily a financially based challenge, let’s look at these cards in the way I’ll be seeing them for the foreseeable future.

Gryff Vanguard - $0.15
Dangerous Wager - $0.25
Havengul Skaab – $0.15
Abundant Growth - $0.25
Driver of the Dead - $0.15
Galvanic Alchemist - $0.15
Timberland Guide - $0.15
Farbog Explorer - $0.15
Nightshade Peddler - $0.15
Blood Artist - $0.50
Gang of Devils – $0.25
Commander’s Authority - $0.25
Restoration Angel - $9.99 (yup)
[White Human Token] - $0.15
Swamp # 236 - $0.25
*Foil* Corpse Traders - $0.49

Initial Pack Value - $13.43

These prices can be slightly misleading; bulk commons are not greater than one-half the cost of uncommons most of the time, BUT such trades do give me excellent value, if they’re feasible.  Converting two crappy commons into an uncommon is technically worse by these measurements, but uncommons are often in high demand and in general trade better than bulk commons.  I was lucky to pull several cards that should pull their weight; Restoration Angel, obviously, but Blood Artist, Abundant Growth and the Foil Corpse Traders should each trade very well, even for a step up (common to uncommon, uncommon to rare, etc.)  Even the “slag,” the land and the token, should be easy to trade off for a pinch of value.  In the end, that’s what the game plan is from start to finish.

I didn’t make any trades on Tuesday, as I got the pack right before I left.  However, Wednesday night I did get an opportunity to go play and trade at Bluegrass Magic; they host a casual Standard tournament there every Wednesday, where I slung MiRUcle to efficient results.  It ended up 2-1 on the night and I got a Game Day Strangleroot Geist.  Not bad for free.  More importantly though, I broke the seal on my Pack to Power trading, which I’ll highlight here!

A Magic pal of mine, Max, was there last night, and many thanks go to him for helping me get my Pack to Power off the ground; he was my partner for each of these trading sessions; I just broke them up because we broke off and then reconvened for trades after each Standard round.  He was in need of new cards and was looking to craft an EDH deck, I was happy to oblige.

The maiden trade of the Pack was definitely, but not overwhelmingly, in my favor.  I knew that the land and token were going to be something, and now I feel confident about this trade as a start.

Swamp # 236 - $0.25
[White Human Token] - $0.15
Commander’s Authority - $0.15

Moss Diamond (6th Edition) - $0.49
Plains # 232 Full-Art (Zendikar) - $0.75
Undertaker (Time Spiral Timeshifted) - $0.25

Net Change - +$0.94

OK, so no HUGE leap, but what I did pick up was solid, simple starters.  Moss Diamond, originally a card I wasn’t very excited about, seems to have a fairly limited application; Green EDH.  Also, I was bummed that it’s a white-bordered card (a lot of people don’t care for them, but I don’t mind: I play 4 9th Edition Mana Leaks in MiRUcle.)  After some consideration, though, I realized this is actually great budget ramp in a color and format where ramp is already encouraged.  The full-art Zendikar Plains is also in high demand, and it should trade up without a doubt.  Undertaker is a little looser, but I thought someone could find a use for it, so I felt fine making a flat trade here (if you consider the Swamp and the Undertaker a 1-for-1 trade).  Not a huge gain in value, but this is a great start; at least I didn’t lose value.

After another match of Standard passed, we came back together for more trading.

I offered him my Abundant Growth, a good common, and Driver of the Dead, a build-around common, each perhaps a cut above the average rabble of black-symbol cards.  A fairly straight trade, I ended up with a bulk-ish rare.

Driver of the Dead - $0.15
Abundant Growth - $0.25

Mindshrieker - $0.99

Net Change - +$0.59

Upgrading two good (but not great) commons for a low-ball rare seemed fine to me.  Worse comes to worse, I could use the Mindshrieker in my Geist of Saint Traft EDH deck.  I don’t have a problem with taking cards out of the Pack for deck use, so long as I proxy them in the binder and am willing to trade them at a moment’s notice. 

Finally, in consideration of his B/G sack EDH deck with Savra, Queen of the Golgari at the helm, we made a final Pack trade.

Blood Artist - $0.49
Dangerous Wager - $0.25

Earthquake (Commander) - $0.49
Phyrexian Crusader - $1.49

Net Change - +$1.24

Admittedly a generous trade on Max’s part, my offerings were still two solid cards from the new set; Blood Artist, a nice uncommon that’s seeing a lot of speculative play (see my previous article), was something I really had to get value out of.  Dangerous Wager has seen some plays in flashback/Runechanter’s Pike lists, and I actually think it’s a pretty acceptable Divination for a red deck.  Still, two rares for a common and an uncommon is generous, and I appreciate Max’s help in getting me some value.

Earthquake has been reprinted to death, but, that doesn’t mean it is without value.  Someone will always have a use for a random Earthquake.  Several years ago, in fact, I traded an Ink-Eyes 1-for-1 for an Earthquake, which even at the time was a very sour trade.  It has EDH, other multiplayer, and casual applications as well as a possible home in Cubes. 

Phyrexian Crusader, although worth significantly less than his sweet white counterpart, is still iconic and powerful in its own right.  The infect sadly hurts it in the long run. If it was just a 2/2, first strike, pro red/black creature, it might be worth twice as much.  I’m hoping to liquidate him quickly, lest he fade into obscurity after rotation.

This is what I expect for the first couple dozen trades or so as I liquidate the commons and get some cards of more significant trading value. 

For all the things that could have gone wrong, I am very pleased with our start as well as the prospect of success in the future. 

Total Net Change - +$2.77

Total Pack Value - $16.20

Although not a huge increase on paper, adding rares, even low-value rares, gives me a enough power to get good uncommons and maybe even trade up to a better rare.

Let me know what you think of the Pack to Power idea and its early progress.  Did you think those trades were good?  Did I make a mistake?  Should I have pushed for more, or did I already push too hard?  Also, I picked up Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 on Xbox, so look me up if you’d like to game!  I'm VerdantCrib3470 (yeah, it was a random name).

Next week, after all of M13 is spoiled, I’ll give you another Top 10 Limited list to examine for the Prerelease on July 7th!  This looks like a really sweet Limited set, so I hope you’re as excited as I am.

Until next time, don’t forget to untap!

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