Reconstruct History — Treasures, Pt. 1
(Revel in Riches | Art by Eric Deschamps)
A Sea of Gold, Gold is All I See
Welcome back to another installment of Reconstruct History, where we look at popularity in cards and archetypes here at EDHREC over time.
Cast your mind back to the fall of 2017. We set sail from the darkness and omnipresent doom of Hour of Devastation, where Nicol Bolas caused massive calamity to an entire plane (a frequent occurrence, it seems), and arrived at the bright shores and pastel colors of Ixalan. While it wasn't exactly a 'happy' story, I think it's safe to say the overall mood of the plane was a bit brighter, possibly brought on by the ever-present daytime and vibrant plumage of Dinosaurs like Goring Ceratops. Plus, the set had Colossal Dreadmaw!
Amidst all the Merfolk and Pirates and Gaea's Cradle impersonators, the Treasure mechanic was introduced. It fit well with the whole Pirate tribe, but I distinctly remember Treasure feeling fairly inconsequential. Outside of a few cards like Brass's Bounty, Spell Swindle, and Pitiless Plunderer, I didn't give the Treasure mechanic much thought or praise.
Boy, was I misguided.
What started as a Pirate-themed currency that appeared on only 25 cards in Ixalan resurfaced once again in Ravnica Allegiance on only one card: the insta-staple, Smothering Tithe. In doing so, it also cemented Treasure tokens as a 'deciduous' mechanic. If you're curious what that term means, here's a quick clarification from Mark Rosewater, head of Studio X over at Wizards of the Coast. He states:
"Deciduous items are those things which aren't used every set but are available to any designer who wants to use them. For example, hybrid mana, split cards, double-faced cards—these are all tools that are available to any set that needs to use them.
"On my blog, I noted that Treasure tokens have become deciduous. Why? Well, they've basically proven to be flavorfully neutral and mechanically useful. Most worlds have Treasures of some kind, and most sets can use a token that can be sacrificed for any color of mana. Another important issue is we'd rather reuse the same terms for something than keep renaming it based on the current set."
Boy howdy, have we seen a lot of Treasures since 2017 (Ixalan). Recently, a Magda, Brazen Outlaw helmed this list piloted by Koibito and won (7-0!) the Marchesa 2022 cEDH tournament, thanks in large part to Treasures. Prosper, Tome-Bound hasn't been out for even a year, but already is the top Rakdos commander by a long shot, currently closing in on 6,000 decks, thanks again to its Treasure-producing capabilities. Cards like Dockside Extortionist and Smothering Tithe cause the biggest swings in games these days, and often have accompanied a lot of chatter about salt, Rule 0, and even house-bans.
We now have more than enough Treasure to keep 30 Smaugs happy in their auric bathing/slumber parties, and we certainly have more Treasure than there are members in the South Korean boy band named Treasure.
Which raises the question: have we gone too far?
What I want to do here is break this question and its analysis into two articles. The first one will take a look at how popular Treasure cards themselves have become, and the second article will focus on the cards that work with (or against) Treasures and the trajectory of those cards since their release. In other words, I'm breaking this down as:
- Part 1: Just how popular are cards that make Treasures?
- Part 2: Which cards work really well (or outright hose) Treasures, given their popularity?
Let's outline some criteria for Part 1:
- Metric: Rank and N decklists. Normally I just use rank, and prefer it to help adjust the data per color of card, but since we're scraping a lot of different cards with different color combinations, I'll actually be resorting to decklists (and subsequently, Log*decks) to help visualize some of these results.
- Cards analyzed: Cards that create Treasure tokens, from Alpha to Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty
- Timeframe: Last two years (January 2020 – January 2022)
- Breaks: Year of printing, and/or monthly intervals
This leaves us with just shy of 100 cards at the time of writing. Note that I can't do any time-based analysis on any cards from Streets of New Capenna, as we haven't really seen the data trickle in and settle just yet.
Additionally, while I normally plot each card over time, I want to take some space to get a 'snapshot' of how well cards with Treasures are doing in the first place and see which are the most popular. We can then hone in on those cards and examine their popularity trends over time.
Number of cards that make Treasure tokens, by print date
Let's start with a basic plot of just how many cards that create Treasure tokens have been printed over the years (as of Streets of New Capenna, April 2022):
While we see a sizeable influx of Treasure-making cards in 2017, given their introduction in Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan, that hiatus in 2018 is noteworthy, and there were only three cards released in 2019 that make Treasures. This may make things seem not all that bad, but don't be fooled so easily: two of the three cards that were printed in 2019 were Smothering Tithe and Dockside Extortionist, arguably the biggest offenders since the mechanic's introduction. Since then, we've see a huge swing upwards, with a veritable explosion of Treasure cards in 2021 and 2022.
I think a lot of the discussion around Treasures started as previews for Streets of New Capenna and its associated Commander precons were revealed throughout April 2022, and for good reason! Between the main set and its precons, there are 39 cards that create Treasure tokens. 39! That's a 56% increase from the Ixalan sets where the Pirate-themed mechanic was first introduced.
Plus, we still have eight months before we even hit 2023, so there could be a lot more Treasure cards still on the horizon for this year alone (hence the question marks in the above graph).
Popularity of Treasure-making cards
Next, let's look at the popularity of Treasure-making cards, compared to one another. The images below contain:
- Plot 1: The number of decks that any card that produces Treasure tokens can be found in, by print date.
- Plot 2: Same as plot 2, but with the number of decks now treated with the log function to help better visualize and account for the steep variability in popularity.
To highlight the most popular Treasure cards, I've only labeled the ones that have greater than 10,000 decks. The less popular options (< 10,000 decks) are plotted as gray points.
Finally, we can look at the rank of every Treasure-producing card within its own set debut (from Ixalan to Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, since we haven't had enough time for Streets of New Capenna data).
In other words, how popular are cards that make Treasures from within each of their sets, once reprints are excluded? The lower the Rank (closer to 1) the more popular it is.
What we see here is a histogram (gray) with an overlaid density plot (blue), and, given the skew, it certainly seems Treasure cards rank high within their sets. Some are big offenders, like Smothering Tithe and Dockside Extortionist (both rank 1 in their respective sets), but so are Deadly Allure and Grim Hireling. From this, I think it's safe to say, for now, that any given card that makes Treasure tokens is sure to be popular within the set it's released in.
Popularity of top contenders, over time
Now that we know some of the top contenders (offenders?), let's look at their rank score by date, individually, to see how their popularity might have changed over time. I'll only be focusing on a the subset of top, mono-colored cards here. Scroll through the carousel (organized alphabetically) to see the individual plots - just be sure to keep an eye on the changing Y-axis in order to better facilitate visuals!
Rank score of top mono-colored treasure producing cards over last 2 years (Jan 2020 - Jan 2022)
You'll notice some of the more recent cards, like Storm-Kiln Artist, have a massive 'spike.' This is just the result of the card being spoiled, and only a few people immediately incorporate it into their lists before the rest of the community 'catches on' and our scrapers grab that data the next month. As such, these spikes aren't so much an unpopular card suddenly getting popular, but rather just an artifact of the date of scraping. The data for these cards essentially settles after spoiler season and more people are aware of the card.
I'll add a final plot here of these cards side-by-side, so you can better compare them, but with the Y-axis limited to Rank 500 or less, so we can get rid of those "adoption spikes" I just mentioned.
Time to Reflect
Let's take a brief moment to take all that in and figure out our primary takeaways.
While I never want to take price as a 1-for-1 prediction of popularity, I think it's safe to say there's a feedback loop between popularity and price when it comes to some of the powerhouses that produce Treasures:
Popularity by price (USD) of treasure-producing cards (as of 4/20/2022)
Even ignoring Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer (due to its power in other formats) and Negan, the Cold-Blooded (given its mechanically unique and limited-time printing), cards like Smothering Tithe, Dockside Extortionist, and Old Gnawbone all fetch a hefty price tag in a format that loves mana acceleration and scaling off the multi-player dynamic.
- Goldspan Dragon is one of those cards I realized would probably never tank after Standard rotation. For years, the adage was EDH players could wait until after Standard sets rotate to get those bombs on the cheap, but as the formats and design principles have changed, I can't help but think Goldspan Dragon will continue to fetch a large price tag.
- Pitiless Plunderer, an uncommon, is the sixth most expensive card from Rivals of Ixalan. You have to go down to card #25 to get to the next uncommon, Legion Lieutenant, which is less than 1/8th the price.
- Revel in Riches may have once been a cute alternative win condition when there wasn't much Treasure support and you predominately relied on its death trigger to make any tokens at all, but it's now a much more consistent means of victory when you can just generate a bunch of Treasures yourself.
While the average price for all these cards may be $3.08, the standard deviation is a whopping $11.43, so central tendency really isn't doing us much good here.
Thankfully, there are some less popular options (<10,000 decks, featured in the plot above in grey and without labels) that are also quite potent in the right build, and less than $1, like Visions of Ruin or Seize the Spoils. This also means they're even more likely to find their way in to budget builds and into an EDH game near you.
Treasure for everyone!
When looking at the top cards that produce Treasure tokens over time, we see most of them are sitting pretty in terms of their rank score or are trending upwards in popularity. There's a bit of a selection bias here, as I chose to only look at the already-popular top Treasure-producing cards, not the bottom ones, which of course means they're likely to keep heading in that direction.
However, almost all of the cards have stayed within a narrow rank score, or are trending increasingly upwards as of April 2022. The only real exception is Monologue Tax.
While it benefits from the 'precon effect' insofar as its numbers are likely a bit inflated since it was included in a precon, a lot of people quickly found out that this card was a bit overhyped, and doesn't consistently generate Treasure tokens as many had thought. I wouldn't be surprised if it trends increasingly downwards as people just look to other options instead.
What'll really be interesting is when we follow this data after a year or so. A lot of the cards trending upwards are recent additions to our format, and it will be curious to see if they hold so steadily in the event Treasure hate/hosers aren't printed.
Which brings me to the final point.
A Treasure Trove of Issues?
Treasures have undoubtedly altered the Commander landscape. The Command Zone's Jimmy and Josh stated they think Treasure tokens "warp the game in a really weird way," in large part due to their ubiquity and ability to 'carry over' from turn to turn, unlike ritual effects, which you have to use that turn.
- After the deluge of Treasure cards (n = 39!) in Streets of New Capenna and the New Cappena Commander precons, a recent Op-Ed decried the recent quantity of Treasure tokens as having gone too far.
- A few months ago, the EDH Deckbuilding Channel featured a video titled "So you hate all those Treasure tokens in Commander?", giving viewers a lot of neat 'silver bullets' to counteract the massive quantity of Treasures in the average Commander game (stay tuned for the next article where I'll look at some of them).
- Our own EDHRECast recently did an EDHREC Room episode on Treasures, where Joey Schultz, Matt Morgan, and Dana Roach all discussed their growing concerns with the impact Treasures could have on EDH games, including how they think players can (or perhaps must) adapt to it.
- PleasantKenobi just released a video (warning: explicit language) titled "Does Magic: The Gathering have a treasure problem? - WotC Plz" where he gives his critical take on the "ubiquity" of Treasures.
Nearly all of this content debuted just in the month of April, 2022.
Amidst all this concern, Mark Rosewater recently stated in March, 2022: "Treasure has proven to be both mechanically and flavorfully synergistic and is a tool I expect R&D to use in many sets to come." Josh Lee Kwai recently tweeted his appreciation for newer cards, like Gala Greeters and Ognis, the Dragon's Lash, for having the Treasure tokens come into play tapped, as it circumvents the combo-tastic, explosive turns that can occur when Treasure tokens come in untapped and ready for use. In a recent interview with IGN's Tom Marks, Gavin Verhey stated that Treasures are:
"...generally pretty fun, I find. Like a little bit of mana boost is enjoyable, so I don't mind Treasures coming in untapped most of the time. I think where it becomes the most dangerous is when a card is creating a huge blast of Treasures that come into play untapped.”
At the time of writing, some 42.6% of 539 IGN poll respondents said, "They are too prevalent/powerful and should be scaled back going forward." A cumulative 75% voted that they are either too prevalent, or are approaching a limit of being excessive.
Regardless of where you fall on Treasures, I hope we can all concur that Treasures are here to stay, and will likely be present in nearly every single Commander game for the foreseeable future.
The Winds of Change
I'll conclude by saying I'm personally torn on this subject. I see the appeal of the design behind Treasures, helping colors that typically struggle with ramp to have an alternative means of mana generation. However, I also worry the dial has been turned too far, and we've overshot to the point where you can expect Treasures to warp a game entirely. Plus, they're now secondary in green as of 2021 (looking at you, Old Gnawbone), a color that traditionally hates artifacts and didn't struggle with ramp in the first place. As an Amulet-Titan player in Modern, I can personally verify just how busted Treasure generation from Tireless Provisioner truly is, and banking mana between turns is a very different experience than ol' Lotus Cobra.
Without a doubt, the Winds of Change are upon us, bringing Unexpected Windfall and deluges of Treasures. My personal solution? Affect the wind itself!
This is a pet card of mine, and it embodies the focus for Part 2 of this article analysis: cards that hose or benefit from Treasure tokens, particularly those which were printed prior to Treasure tokens ever being introduced as a mechanic in 2017.
Before we get there, though, what do you think about Treasures in our format? Are you a fan? Skeptical? Critical?
Let me know in the comments below, and please leave any suggestions for cards you would like me to look at for Part 2!
Also, just so you know, you're all Treasures in my book.