March 14, 2018

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Card of the Day – Merfolk Branchwalker

When you think of the Empire State Building, what first comes to mind?

Is it the wonderful displays on the ground level? The gargoyles peering out on New York City? Do you think of its magnificent point, leering tall above the rest of the New York skyline? Do you think of the man hours that went into building it?

It would be perfectly natural for any of those things to jump to mind when you think of one of the tallest man-made structures in the world. But one of the things you don’t usually think of are the supports. The beams. The foundation that holds everything together. It isn’t until you get to see it up close and take part in what makes it great that you realize even among the pieces that hold everything together, there are still a few mysteries to unfold and explain.

While that was kind of a long-winded segue, this is a proper description of a card like Merfolk Branchwalker. A staple in quite a few competitive Standard Tribal Merfolk decks, this card is pretty straightforward and served as a proper introduction to the Explore mechanic back when Ixalan was first being spoiled. While this card doesn’t get a whole lot of attention in a competitive play, it’s a pretty decent mainboard piece that still sees a lot of play nonetheless.

That makes it weirder, to me, that it holds host to one of Standard’s largest mysteries yet…

Like I said, this card is pretty straightforward but let’s break it down anyways. It’s a two mana Merfolk creature that stacks up at 2/1 and explores when it enters. Then it either gives you a land in hand, or puts a +1/+1 counter on itself, potentially becoming a 3/2 as early as on turn two. That’s pretty good for two mana.

You would think that would be the end of things, right? Well, in terms of the card’s mechanics and what it does for Merfolk Tribal, yes. It ends around there. I mean, if you were to play Kumena’s Speaker on turn one, Merfolk Branchwalker on turn two, then Jadelight Ranger on turn three, you’d be laughing because you’ve either drawn into guaranteed land drops, or your bodies have all been steadily growing.

But we’re not here to talk about why Merfolk is one of the strongest tribes in Standard right now. That’s a whole different article. What we’re here to talk about is how Merfolk Branchwalker has performed on the secondary market, and the few things it could mean but have never been confirmed.

Specifically, why the multiplier for the foil of Branchwalker was, at points, nearly 30x the price of the regular. Now, the foil has steadily gone down in price over the course of time as the price of the non-foil has steadily gone up, a process that has been more apparent since Rivals was released.

Around a month after the release of Ixalan, the non-foil version was going for about half of a dollar while the foil fluctuated strongly, topping off at nearly 30 dollars. When I opened my first foil of this card (a card I still have), it was sitting pretty at around $20-$25. That blew my mind for a card that, really, had no value. The largest price multiplier the foil gave, at peak, was around 60x. That’s nuts! Especially for a card that didn’t really see staple competitive Standard play until Rivals released and, by that time, prices started regulating themselves towards something a little more… normal.

While no one’s ever really seemed to have noticed this locally, one of two things seems to apply regarding the foil version: Either the foil of this card was just simply not printed as often as others, or the demand for the foil version must have spiked for some reason.

I highly doubt the latter is true because the non-foil didn’t spike at the same time. For it to be true would mean that people would have had to have only been seeking the foil versions to control market price, then sold them all at once in a Standard form. But before Rivals came out, where the card was only really lukewarm. The former though, means that this card may have been one of the rarest cards printed in Ixalan, for a time. At least until a few print runs later when they fixed the situation and the foil saw quite a bit of exposure.

One of the weirder things is how the paths of worth have crossed each other since Rivals released. With Merfolk becoming way more viable in Standard as a competitive tribe, Branchwalker simply became more valuable. However this increase saw the multiplier for the foil start dropping. It’s almost as though the secondary market was noticing that there was this kind of abnormality that just resolved itself the more people used the card.

While it’s still experiencing a really good multiplier for a Standard Merfolk and Explore staple, that’s still a strange behaviour in the secondary market. Especially where I’m coming from.

Maybe this isn’t as strange in other Magic communities but this card stood out to me as a weird abnormality, especially in Standard. What do you think?