A Financial Look At The Modern Unbans

Having Jace and Bloodbraid Elf injected into Modern has made for madness in the markets overnight! Chas Andres talks about this and more in his latest column!

Well then.

I had an article all ready to go on Pauper Finance, but that’s going to
have to wait until Monday. We’ve got more pressing matters to discuss

If you had told me a few months ago that Jace, the Mind Sculptor and
Bloodbraid Elf were about to be unbanned in Modern, I wouldn’t have been
all that surprised. WotC teased this bombshell back in autumn, after all.
I wrote a whole article about it
. Jace, the Mind Sculptor was a little more surprising than Bloodbraid Elf,
but this decision didn’t come out of left field. Back in December of 2016,
predicted that
Jace, the Mind Sculptor would be unbanned in 2017. Alas, I was just two
months off.

And yet, I felt totally blindsided by Monday’s announcement. Bloodbraid
Elf, okay, but Jace, the Mind Sculptor now? Really? After that Pro

After Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, I can safely say that Modern is
as popular, diverse, and interesting as it has ever been. It doesn’t need
any shaking up because you can already basically play whatever deck you
want. In fact, the Top 8 at Grand Prix Toronto this weekend showcased seven
different decks, only one of which was represented in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. Out of the sixteen slots across both Top 8s,
there were thirteen different decks. That’s amazing! And the problem that
some pros have with the format (too many unstoppable threats, not enough
versatile answers) is in no way solved by either Jace or Bloodbraid Elf.

Modern won’t be this good forever, of course. New cards will be printed.
New ways to attack the format will be discovered. It’s possible that things
will continue to get better, but maintaining a long-term balance that leads
to a format as diverse as Modern right now has proven almost impossible
throughout the history of the game. Legacy, for example, has bounced back
and forth between a brewer’s paradise and a format with a dominant strategy
or two over the past decade. Chances are Modern will hit a rough patch at
some point. All formats do.

That’s why I’m not a big fan of WotC choosing to act now. The upside
(“Modern is still great!”) is basically the same as it was before the
unbannings, while the downside (“Modern is all about Jace now…”) involves a
backlash against the game’s best and most popular format at a time when
Standard is still recovering from a rough couple of years. I would have
saved both unbannings for a time when Modern needed a shake-up. Instead, we
get to hold our breath and hope that WotC didn’t just throw a monkey wrench
into Modern’s gear box.

And that’s why I was so surprised by the news on Monday. It wasn’t that
either card felt unreasonable to unban in a vacuum, it was all about the
timing. In many ways, it felt like this was an announcement that WotC had
loaded and ready to go for months, and the Pro Tour results didn’t play
into it at all.

So why did things play out the way it did? Here’s my best guess:

First, it’s Magic’s twenty-fifth anniversary this year, and Jace, the Mind
Sculptor is the most iconic card of the decade. You could even say that
Jace is the Black Lotus of the twenty-first century. This “face of the
game” wasn’t legal for play in Standard or Modern, the game’s two most
popular formats. Now it is.

And let’s be honest, aren’t you excited to build a deck with Jace? Aren’t
you more likely to watch the next major Modern stream and play in the next
Modern event near your hometown? Based on the reactions I’ve seen on my
Twitter feed and the number of completely unrelated Modern cards that I’ve
sold over the past 48 hours, a whole lot of people are really energized
about this move.

Second, Modern needed a new chase card or two if WotC wanted to keep
getting $10 each for their Masters packs. There are only so many times that
WotC can keep reprinting these sets before the prices drop past the point
where it makes sense to buy in. Modern Masters 2013 sold so well
in large part because Tarmogoyf was a $150 card. It’s closer to $50 now,
though, and many of the format’s other top staples have dropped as well
thanks in large part to years of heavy reprints. Not only will the Jace,
the Mind Sculptor unban help sell Masters 25 packs, it allows WotC
to drop Jace in their next Modern Masters set as well and keep their gravy
train running. The Bloodbraid Elf unban also boosts other top Jund staples,
like Dark Confidant, Liliana of the Veil, and even Tarmogoyf. The immediate
impact of this move is that Modern got a bit more expensive, which
incentivizes people to buy and open packs instead of just picking up

Third, the timing makes sense when you realize that waiting until after the
Pro Tour probably had nothing to do with the cards that were unbanned. WotC
probably decided to unban Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor months
ago, maybe even earlier, in order to line up the announcement with the Masters 25 release and their other 25th Anniversary marketing. I
doubt they were watching the Pro Tour in order to make sure that Jace and
Bloodbraid Elf would be okay, or thinking about their place in the current
metagame; they were making sure nothing else needed to be banned. That way,
they could avoid making multiple changes to the Modern B&R list only a
few months apart if Bilbao had turned into Eldrazi Winter II or whatever.

A cynic can read this announcement as WotC just trying to sell more packs.
An optimist can view it as WotC making sure that things stay exciting and
allowing us to play with two of the coolest cards ever printed. Both are
likely true, and regardless, the financial impact is pretty massive. Let’s
take a closer look at where the Modern market is going, shall we?

The Cards Themselves

Right now, SCG retail is $10 for Bloodbraid Elf (sold out) and $150 for
Jace, the Mind Sculptor (in stock). Considering how absurd prices usually
get after an unban, this isn’t as bad as I’d feared during the first hour
or so of the unban madness. I had figured Bloodbraid Elf would end up in
the $12-$15 range short term and Jace would break $200. We can probably
thank the fact that WotC revealed the Masters 25 packaging during
the Pro Tour for this. If we hadn’t known that Jace was about to come back,
he probably would have spiked to $250+.

There’s no proof yet, but Bloodbraid Elf is probably in Masters 25
as well. Again, this whole move seemed planned so far in advance that WotC
had to know there would be a ton of Bloodbraid Elf demand this spring. This
means that if you buy your Jaces and Bloodbraid Elves now, you’re not only
buying at the top of their hype curve, you’re buying them right before
they’re about to be reprinted.

There are other reasons not to buy these cards right now. Most of the time,
Magic players overestimate the immediate impact that an unbanned card is
going to have on a given format. Ancestral Vision, Sword of the Meek,
Golgari Grave-Troll, Bitterblossom, and Wild Nacatl have all come off the
banned list over the past five years, and there hasn’t been a single case
where you wouldn’t have wanted to sell into the immediate hype. Even
Golgari Grave-Troll, which had to be banned again, dropped off considerably
after the unban before eventually finding a home.

Are Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf going to be the exceptions
to this rule? It’s possible. Most of the other cards that were unbanned
needed a specific deck to get going, while Jace, the Mind Sculptor really
just needs blue mana to be good. There’s a shot that Jace is immediately
the most powerful card in Modern and is an instant four-of in all the best
decks. In that case, the price could easily maintain $200+, even with a Masters 25 reprint. Of course, that case would also probably lead
to Jace jumping right back onto the banned list.

All of this tells me that Jace is a sell at $150. It’s about to be
reprinted, there’s no guarantee it’s actually going to be good, and if it’s
too good it’ll probably end up banned again. If you’re buying or holding at
$150, you’re basically gambling on it being one of the most powerful 2-3
cards in Modern without upsetting too many apple cards. This isn’t a
terribly unlikely outcome, to be fair, but it’s a heck of a needle to
thread. I’ll cash out now, thanks.

Unlike Jace, Bloodbraid Elf probably shouldn’t have even been banned in the
first place. It’s not going to set the world on fire no matter what; best
case, it’s a four-of in a resurgent Jund strategy while perhaps also giving
some life to some sort of Temur or four-color Ancestral Vision brew. I can
see Bloodbraid Elf sticking around the $8-$10 range if it isn’t reprinted
in Masters 25, but it’s a $3-$4 card if it is, so I see no reason
to hold here. Where’s the upside? Best case, it ends up staying right where
it is right now.

If you really want to buy Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Bloodbraid Elf right
now, I have a better idea: buy an Eternal Masters box or three.
Jace and Bloodbraid Elf are both in Eternal Masters, and the price
for that set hasn’t adjusted to match their new price tags yet. The set is
old enough at this point that some of those other cards are likely to start
ticking up again soon as well.

Other Financial Ramifications of the Bloodbraid Elf Unbanning

With Bloodbraid Elf, the obvious place to start is by taking a look at
Modern Jund. The deck hasn’t been doing all that well in recent months, but
it occasionally throws up a high result here and there. Let’s take a look
at Austin Duncan’s IQ-winning list from back in December:

This is not a cheap deck, and it’s not likely to get cheaper any time soon.
For starters, you’re looking at a playset each of Dark Confidant,
Tarmogoyf, and Liliana of the Veil. All three cards have slowly begun to
tick up in price as a result of the Bloodbraid Elf unbanning, and that
trend is only going to continue over the next couple of weeks. These
staples were a major part of Jund during Bloodbraid Elf’s last go-round, so
there’s no reason to believe they won’t still be the core of every Jund
deck going forward. If you want to play Jund, you’re going to need to pick
these cards up ASAP.

We’re also going to see some major movement in Jund’s manabase. Somebody
bought out Blackcleave Cliffs last week in response to its dominance on the
Pro Tour stage, but the Bloodbraid Elf unban caused a secondary spike that
has pushed the card from $20 to $50 in the span of a week. I don’t think
that this is sustainable, especially since these lands could be reprinted
at any time-even in Standard-but over the short term, this is going to be a
hard land to find. I bet we’ll see Verdant Catacombs start to climb over
the next couple of weeks as well.

If you’re looking for an interesting spec target, check out Raging Ravine.
Jadine Klomparens wrote a great piece on Jund yesterday
that talks about why Bloodbraid Elf pairs so well with creature-lands. I do
think that we’ll be getting the Worldwake creature-lands reprinted
at some point soon, but based on the available supply and influx of new
demand I could see Raging Ravine spiking to $30 or $35. Foil copies of
Treetop Village might see an increase in price, too.

Beyond that, the goal with Bloodbraid Elf is to play with cards that are as
unconditional as possible in order to avoid whiffing on your cascade. This
means that cards like Kolaghan’s Command and Collective Brutality are
likely to see more play in Jund going forward. Kolaghan’s Command has been
surging in price over the past 24 hours, and it’s almost impossible to find
these under $25 right now. Collective Brutality already spiked following
the Pro Tour, and it’s a $25+ card as well. These cards can’t go too much
higher considering Jund is already a stupidly expensive deck, but
Kolaghan’s Command maintaining a price tag in the $20+ range isn’t too much
to ask. Collective Brutality is probably good enough in so many top decks
that could hit $35 at some point soon.

It’s also worth noting that Bloodbraid Elf’s legality will probably lead
more people to play Lightning Bolt over Fatal Push since the former is
never a dead cascade. (It’s also better against Jace). This, in turn,
should lead to Tarmogoyf seeing more play since Fatal Push is part of what
helped sideline it a bit in Modern. Just in case you needed another reason
to snag your set of ‘Goyfs right now, here you go.

Beyond that, expect a general run on everything even slightly Jund related.
Thoughtseize, Maelstrom Pulse, Abrupt Decay, Goblin Rabblemaster,
Scavenging Ooze, Kitchen Finks, foil copies of Terminate…all these cards
are going to rise in price, at least a little. Heck, I even saw a small run
on Thrun, the Last Troll immediately following the banning. People are really excited about these unbans, y’all.

Going beyond Jund, it’s worth thinking about Ancestral Vision. Ancestral
Vision wasn’t legal in Modern the last time Bloodbraid Elf was unbanned,
and you can’t really beat a cascade into three free cards. I have no idea
what this sort of deck would look like, but I bet the price goes up a bit
as people consider the possibilities. I’ve already started to see the price
creep up a couple of bucks, but it could hit $25-$30 based on hype alone.
Oh-and Ancestral Vision is probably pretty good with Jace, the Mind
Sculptor as well.

Other Financial Ramifications of the Jace, The Mind Sculptor Unbanning

Unlike Bloodbraid Elf, it’s not clear where Jace will end up fitting best.
I’ve seen arguments for U/W, Jeskai, and Grixis, as well as something U/G
based so that you can run it alongside Noble Hierarch (play Jace sooner!)
and Tarmogoyf (protect him!). If cube draft is any indication, and it
isn’t, this last strategy is quite good.

At any rate, I don’t think we’ll see quite as many land spikes related to
Jace since there’s no one clear shell where the planeswalker belongs. The
exception is Celestial Colonnade, which has jumped about $10 since the
unbanning and continues to rise. Much like with Raging Ravine, I feel like
a reprint might be coming as soon as Masters 25. In the meantime,
this is going to remain one of the most expensive cards in Modern.

The most obvious place to search for value in the wake of Jace’s unbanning
is in the blue control shells that are already good. Snapcaster
Mage/Cryptic Command was an incredibly powerful interaction at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, and even though Cryptic Command also costs four
mana I would expect these two spells to see even more play now that they’ve
got Jace to pal around with. Snapcaster Mage has already gained about $5
since the unbanning and it will likely go a bit higher over the next
several days. I also expect Thoughtseize to tick up a bit as it works well
in both Jund (less conditional than Inquisition of Kozilek) and as a way to
clear a path for and protect Jace.

Beyond that, there are plenty of solid blue and U/W Control cards that are
likely to see secondary spikes as the metagame evolves. Detention Sphere,
Countersquall, Supreme Verdict, Vendilion Clique, and Search for Azcanta
are going to be in higher demand over the next couple of days. I also
suspect that this is where Remand bounces back in a pretty major way-it was
already a card I had pegged as a potential spec target, and now there’s a
reason for it to double in price. I’d grab a set ASAP.

I don’t know how good it’ll be, but I guarantee you that enough people will
attempt to recreate Miracles in Modern to cause Terminus, Entreat the
Angels, and potentially Temporal Mastery to spike. All three cards were in Modern Masters 2017, so they can’t really get any lower and
they’re weird enough that I can’t imagine we’ll be getting a third printing
any time soon. I’m going to snag a few playsets of each in anticipation.

I don’t know if Disrupting Shoal will actually be good with Jace, but it’s
the closest thing to Force of Will in Modern and the price is already
surging as people attempt to recreate one of the most powerful interactions
in Legacy. Since Disrupting Shoal was only printed once, in Betrayers of Kamigawa, the price can get a bit silly without even
seeing much play. I bet Disrupting Shoal will break $20 on hype alone, and
it’ll probably fall back a bit after that unless it actually ends up being
good. It probably won’t, but if it does, we’d be looking at a $50 card
pretty easily.

It’s also worth taking a few moments to look at what people are going to
use to fight against Jace. I’m already seeing Dreadbore-especially foil
copies-ticking up a bit. Since that one’s good in Jund, I’m not surprised.
I’ve also heard some buzz around Gaddock Teeg and Hero’s Downfall, though I
haven’t seen any price movement there yet.

Beyond that are the good sideboard artifacts-Pithing Needle, Phyrexian
Revoker, and Sorcerer’s Spyglass. There are enough of these around that I
don’t anticipate any seeing a major spike, but trade demand should go up
and we could see some pressure put on the foil market.

If you really want to get next level, you can start looking at decks that
are good against Jace. It might be a bit early to do this, especially since
we don’t even know if Jace will be good in Modern yet, but it’s worth
noting that Burn and Affinity are probably fast enough that they don’t have
to worry too much about a four-mana planeswalker. Eidolon of the Great
Revel might be worth snagging, and I like Chrome Mox a lot if it doesn’t
end up in Masters 25. The Eldrazi are also really good against
Jace, and it’s about time for Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher to
start ticking up in price. Geist of Saint Traft also seems like it’ll start
to see more play, at least out of the sideboard in Jeskai Control. Notion
Thief has proven itself pretty powerful against a Jace every now and then
as well. The card is just $0.75 right now, so I’m going to grab a couple of
copies just in case.

Wrapping It Up

In the end, I’m expecting a lot of market movement based on these
unbannings. Most of it will likely be temporary and illusory, but I cannot
overstate just how excited people are about Modern right now. Between the
great Pro Tour and the unbannings, I’m seeing a great deal of movement
across the board. If you like short-term flips, I’d snag some of the more
promising cards that pair well with Jace and Bloodbraid Elf with the goal
of selling them into hype over the next couple of weeks. If you’re more of
a long-term person, I’d think about selling or trading out of your un-used
Modern staples over the next month or so while excitement is still high.

I have no idea what the Jace and Bloodbraid unbannings will do to Modern.
Jund could end up tier one again, or it might remain a fringe strategy.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor could be so good that it warps the format around
it, or it might not be good enough to see play at all. The best thing you
can do right now is to stay sharp, pay close attention, and see what
develops. The next few months are going to be fun!

This Week’s Trends

The Standard market continues to be fairly quiet as the new metagame grows
more clear, but a pair of powerful red mythics-Hazoret the Fervent and
Rekindling Phoenix-continue to slowly rise in value. Mono-Red Aggro and
Grixis Energy are the top two decks in the format right now, and Hazoret is
a four-of in Mono-Red while Rekindling Phoenix is a four-of in Energy. Want
to play R/B Aggro, one of Standard’s best second tier decks? You’ll need
four Hazorets and four Phoenixes. Yeah, I don’t think either card is going
to drop in price soon.

Also up big this week: Vraska’s Contempt, which is a key staple in Grixis
Energy, G/B Constrictor, U/B Control, and U/B Midrange. Don’t expect to see
this one below $10 anytime soon, either.

Heads up-there’s a video going around right now showing that Unstable packs have been mapped to the point where it’s fairly
easy to figure out where all the Islands are. You can even pinpoint
Steamflogger Boss with some level of accuracy. As always, you shouldn’t buy
loose boosters from disreputable sources unless you’re okay the risk of
being sold leftovers from a mapped box. Major dealers like StarCityGames
don’t do this, of course, but beware of “too good to be true” deals from
eBay sellers. If you’re buying sealed product from somewhere like eBay, be
certain that you’re buying a full sealed box that’s still in the WotC

There’s another video going around that dredges up the legal question of
WotC’s ability to rip up the Reserved List. I’ve looked into this several
times, and the truth is that we just don’t have enough information to know
how much legal trouble WotC would be in if they actually did this.

I’m still not convinced that the Reserved List will survive forever, but
the truth is that Masters 25 would have been the perfect place to
bring back dual lands, Black Lotus, and friends. If they were going to do
it at some point over the next few years, this would have been the time.
Since we’ve already seen the Masters 25 packaging and it doesn’t
even hint at these cards, I have to imagine that they’re not going to be a
part of the game’s 25th anniversary celebration. Don’t expect the Reserved
List to go anywhere anytime soon.