When a price changes drastically, there's usually a reason for that, for example an unbanning, spoiling of a new card that complements a card, or some new tech. But why are cards expensive that, well, already are expensive? That's what I'm going to try to explore in this article series. This instalment, we'll be talking about Doubling Season. A card with a high price tag, that doesn't see any competitive play... at all.
Aim of this article
Many articles require (some) background knowledge about formats, the metagame and price history of a card and similar cards. We also like to serve newcomers, casual players and infrequent players in the community who would like to understand how or why a card got to where it is now. If you have been dealing with Magic finance for some time, this article probably contains a lot of information you're already aware of. Cards with a high price tag, that looks like a terrible card to new players, are the cards that I want to explore in these series.
Since Guilds of Ravnica is being spoiled, I actually like discussing a card that was printed in Ravnica. Also, with the rising popularity of Modern Hardened Scales decks, it's easy to see the similarities with Doubling Season, even though there are important differences. One of them is, that Doubling Season costs about 7 times as much as Hardened Scales. Why is this card so expensive? Let's look at the chart first.
What we see from the original printing in Ravnica is that the card has a strong rising trend. However, it went down around June 2013 because it was getting a reprint in Modern Masters. But even at its lowest point then you paid around $18 each. From there it just went up and up, until it finally received another reprint in Battlebond. This drove the price down from $60 to about $50.
Ravnica: City of Guilds
Ravnica is maybe one of the most popular planes in the Magic multiverse. Not only did we Return to Ravnica, but we're also close to the release of the Guilds of Ravnica. Ravnica's main planet is covered in a large city that seems mainly inspired by Eastern Europe influences. Law magic and the metaphysics of hierarchy are deeply woven into the very fabric of the plane, enabling cooperating leaders to achieve feats of greatness.
Ravnica: City of Guilds introduced 4 out of the 10 bicolored guilds: Boros Legion, House Dimir, Golgari Swarm and Selesnya Conclave. One of the most notable abilities from Ravnica was the Dredge ability, which is attributes to the Golgari Swarm. Notable cards with this ability are Life from the Loam, Golgari Grave-Troll and Stinkweed Imp. Ravnica also introduced us to Dark Confidant aka "Bob", which as of writing is the most expensive card in the set.
But maybe the most notable is the shock-land cycle that sees a lot of play in Modern.
Doubling Season has two replacement effects which are both very similar. So similar that we can actually discuss them simultaneously:
If an effect would create one or more tokens under your control, it creates twice that many of those tokens instead.
If an effect would put one or more counters on a permanent you control, it puts twice that many of those counters on that permanent instead.
So, long story short:
- If you would get tokens, you'll get twice that many
- If you would put counters on a permanent, put twice that many on it
The funny thing about these replacement effects, is that they stack. This means that if you would have two Doubling Seasons on the battlefield, you get four times as many tokens/counters. With three, you'll get eight times that many. This effect also applies if you control a Hardened Scales or Parallel Lives: since you control the replacement effects you get to decide on how they stack. So in the first example, with Hardened Scales, you would first get the additional counter and then use the Season's effect to double it.
This also means that if you play a Planeswalker, with Doubling Season in play, it will enter the battlefield with twice as many loyalty counters. For certain planeswalkers this means that you can immediately activate its ultimate (example: Nissa, Vital Force). However, if you activate a planeswalker's ability whose cost has you put loyalty counters on it, the number you put on isn’t doubled. This is because those counters are put on as a cost, not as an effect.
That's the thing. It does not see play in Modern, Vintage or Legacy formats whatsoever. The price is only driven by casual demand. Isn't that beautiful? Because of its abilities, it is played in quite the green Commander decks. Most notable examples of decks it's played in are Prossh, Skyraider of Kher, Atraxa, Praetors' Voice, Trostani, Selesnya's Voice and Rhys the Redeemed.
Doubling Season is also very popular in casual decks that revolve around counters, like Spike decks (with Spike Feeder for example), Thallid decks, etc.
There really isn't a good alternative for Doubling Season, but there are cards that partially do what it does. For some decks that will suffice, but for some it is definitely a step down. Primal Vigor comes very close, but also has a $20 price tag. It does however only affect +1/+1 counters, so it doesn't help your planeswalkers or permanents with other tokens.
Hardened Scales has already been briefly discussed, but this only adds one extra +1/+1 counter on a creature instead of double. However, it only costs , which makes it a fast enabler. Parallel Lives only has one of the two abilities that Doubling Season has, but may do for your deck if it only revolves around tokens.
#ButWhy is it expensive?
So... #ButWhy is Doubling Season so expensive? It has two abilities which doubles your tokens and counters every time. There's no good alternative for it. The supply is low since it only received a reprint at rare in Modern Masters and at mythic in Battlebond. With its popularity, the demand is a lot higher than its supply. A good reprint would definitely drive the price down.