What a difference a week makes.
Seven days ago, Thought-Knot Seer and pals were bulldozing through the Modern metagame while Siege Rhino finished up its farewell tour of Standard. Now the world belongs to Declaration in Stone, Ancestral Vision, Archangel Avacyn, and Thopter Foundry.
One of the problems with writing about new formats is that everything can change in a matter of hours. If I wrote about Standard based on the Saturday morning metagame at #SCGBALT, the format would have looked quite a bit different than it did after the Top 8 on Sunday afternoon. (For the obsessives: I submitted this article just prior to the end of Round 12.) And, of course, things will be shaken up even further by Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad two weeks from now.
People also tend to overreact based on first-week results—people were dropping almost $20 each on World Breakers based on the start of Oath of the Gatewatch Standard, remember, while Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet; Sylvan Advocate; and Chandra, Flamecaller didn’t see as much play as they eventually would. Modern will likely be even more warped by the early results—it’s a very complex format, and there’s no way anyone has figured out the best Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek or Ancestral Vision deck yet.
This preamble is just a way for me to remind you not to overreact to anything that happened over the weekend. I’ve included all my thoughts below, and there are certainly cards worth buying and selling based on what happened over the past two days, but don’t forget to tread carefully. It’s tempting to look at one or two tournaments and assume that things will play out as expected over the next couple of months. History has shown us that this is rarely the case.
Standard Watch: Shadows over Innistrad
Archangel Avacyn and Declaration in Stone were everywhere. I underrated Archangel Avacyn in my set review because I was caught up in how difficult she would be to flip and how much control your opponent has in controlling her trigger. Turns out, Avacyn doesn’t actually flip that often—she comes out on turn 5 or 6, earns you a victory in combat, and then starts to finish off the game.
At this point, it would be pretty shocking if Avacyn isn’t one of the two or three most expensive cards in Shadows for the duration of her time in Standard. Does that mean she can sustain her current $40+ price tag? That depends on the rest of the set. Shadows seems pretty deep to me, which makes me suspect that Archangel Avacyn will end up closer to $25-$30 a month or two from now. If the Vampires never really materialize and Arlinn Kord is a bust, though, it’s certainly possible that she’ll be a $35-$40 mythic for quite some time.
Declaration in Stone is currently $10, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it bounces around between $6 and $15 depending on how aggressive the format ends up.
It’s very splashable at 1W. The “give a Clue” drawback basically doesn’t exist against aggro decks. The real question is whether people are overrating this as an option in midrange and control decks—it’s outstanding if you’re applying pressure, but is it really a better option than Silkwrap or Stasis Snare in a deck that goes long? Right now, the pros seem split. If midrange and control decks really want this, it’s a $15 card. If not, it’s more like $6 or $7 long-term.
Westvale Abbey also had a good weekend, looking incredibly powerful in decks like Chris Andersen’s G/W Tokens. It’s currently $20, though, and I highly doubt it can sustain that price tag for long. It’s not the type of card that can be shoved into every list, and I doubt it’ll end up making an impact in Modern—at least not right away. Even though it’s a very real card that should continue to make an impact in Standard for a while, I’d sell my copies into hype and look to buy them back for $5-$10 less in a month or two.
Tireless Tracker also looked very good at times, doing some serious work in decks like Jim Davis’s Bant Company. It’s not amazing in every matchup, but I overlooked the fact that it grows into a very real threat while drawing you cards. It’s a little undervalued at the current retail of $4, and I suspect it’ll end up seeing play in multiple W/G and Bant midrange decks going forward.
Sorin, Grim Nemesis looked too slow to me at first, but it’s exactly what the Esper and W/B Control decks seem to want. It gains a lot of life right away, and like any good planeswalker it can take over the game if it sticks around long enough. Of all the planeswalkers in Shadows over Innistrad, Sorin looks like it’ll be the first to make a real impact. I doubt it’ll drop below $20 or $25 until we see which control decks rise to the top of the new format.
Todd Anderson’s U/R Control deck showcased the power of two new Shadows cards: Thing in the Ice and Drownyard Temple. I’m writing this before the Top 8, but regardless of how Todd ended up doing, I suspect that there will be at least one person at your LGS who will want to build this deck next week due to how fun and tricky it looks. Both cards looked decent in Todd’s deck, but neither looked overpowered. I still don’t think Thing in the Ice can sustain a $20 price tag unless it starts doing broken things in Modern or Legacy. Drownyard Temple is the most intriguing spec opportunity to me right now—it’s pure card advantage if you’re playing enough Lava Axes and Jaces, and I could see it finding a home in another deck or two. At $4, it’s a decent buy.
Is Humans a real deck? You better believe it! I don’t know what odds I could have gotten a week ago on Humans making a splash while all the Vampires stayed home, but I’d certainly be a wealthier man now if I’d made that bet. Want to play this deck? In addition to Kytheon, Hero of Akros (more on him later) and Declaration in Stone, you’ll need new Shadows cards like Always Watching, Hanweir Militia Captain, and Thalia’s Lieutenant. Since this deck doesn’t have Jace suppressing the price of everything else in the list, all of three of these cards could be stable at $5+ for a while depending on how good this deck ends up being. Since none of these cards are over $4 at the time of this writing (likely because it hasn’t seen much camera time as of midday Sunday despite some good results), there’s a decent chance they’ll start to rise next week as more people start getting turned onto the deck.
What about the Shadows cards that didn’t do much? Arlinn Kord; Jace, Unraveler of Secrets; Asylum Visitor; Mindwrack Demon; Olivia, Mobilized for War; Relentless Dead; The Gitrog Monster; Falkenrath Gorger; and Sin Prodder are the biggest no-shows so far. I suggest trading these cards away ASAP if you can get anything even close to retail for them, but that doesn’t mean they’re dead and buried—it’s possible an excellent B/R Vampires or G/R Werewolves deck will emerge at the Pro Tour in a couple of weeks.
Don’t forget that Collected Company looked like a bust for weeks after release. Odds are at least one of these cards will break out at some point as well, but you should have a chance to buy in cheaper once the hype has died down.
Standard Watch: Older Cards
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy isn’t as powerful as it was in Khans Standard. The fetchlands were crucial in helping Jace flip quickly, and graveyards just aren’t filling up as quickly anymore. That said, Jace was still everywhere all weekend. Just because Jace isn’t quite as powerful doesn’t mean every deck playing blue doesn’t want to run four of them. I doubt the price is going to drop until we get a lot closer to Origins Standard rotation.
Speaking of blue, let’s take a look at some of the other cards in Todd Anderson’s U/R Control list. Pyromancer’s Goggles jumped from $2.50 to $5 over the weekend, which is unsurprising if you watched any of the SCG Live coverage. It’s weak to artifact hate, of course, but if you can untap with it in Todd’s list, you can start doing seriously broken things with Magmatic Insight, Tormenting Voice, Fall of the Titans, Lava Axe, etc. You probably don’t want more than two or three copies of this, but I can see it ending up in the $8-$10 range if this deck really takes off. You need four copies of Jace first, though, so it’s not like every card in the deck can suddenly go crazy.
Todd’s list also ran four copies of Wandering Fumarole, and there were plenty of Shambling Vents running over the weekend as well. These cards are both likely to be Standard and Casual staples for quite a while, and they’ve got some Eternal application too. Both are under $5 right now, and I like them as trade targets at current retail.
Secure the Wastes spiked over the weekend, seeing play in G/W Tokens and looking pretty solid. It’s quite good with Westvale Abbey, though I doubt more than one Tier 1 deck wants to run this. Don’t forget that you can find these in the G/W Dragons of Tarkir Intro Pack, so the price is somewhat limited by the increased supply. There also might be a potential opportunity to buy these intro packs at a profit if Secure gets pricey enough.
Kytheon, Hero of Akros saw a spike over the weekend thanks to the play it sees in W/x Humans decks. One of the bigger problems Kytheon faced in the old Standard was that it had to compete with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar for space on the battlefield. Gideon is weaker now, though, and the Humans decks are capable of some seriously quick starts. I see no reason why Kytheon can’t maintain a $15 price tag for the next two or three months. If Humans ends up being one of the two or three best decks in the format, it could go even higher. At current the retail price of $12, I like it as a buy.
Archangel of Tithes is another card that is much better now that white appears to be the dominant color in the format. It’s an incredibly powerful card that didn’t find much of a home last season because the triple white casting cost was nearly impossible in a format dominated by three-color decks. It spiked to $20 over the weekend, and I could see it staying in the $20-$25 range if white continues to dominate.
A partial list of other cards that looked good over the weekend: Collected Company; Eldrazi Displacer; Thought-Knot Seer; Knight of the White Orchid; Sylvan Advocate; Reflector Mage; Chandra, Flamecaller; Hangarback Walker; Dragonlord Ojutai; Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger; Oath of Nissa; Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim.
The Modern Unbannings
It is impossible to overstate just how different Modern might be now that Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek are legal. Beyond the Eldrazi nonsense, the last Modern Pro Tour mostly featured quick, non-interactive decks trying to punch through each other—Affinity, Infect, Burn, etc. Between the card advantage generated by Ancestral Vision and the inevitability of Thopter/Sword, true control decks will get a chance to prove themselves worthy of Tier 1 status. Does that mean it’s time to buy in?
First, let’s take a look at the three cards most obviously affected. Ancestral Vision spiked to $50 and hasn’t shown any signs of dropping yet. Sword of the Meek is sold out at $15, but its true price is closer to $20. Thopter Foundry is sold out at $10, but enough of these are hitting the market that I expect it to stabilize closer to $7 or $8.
All of these cards have been underprinted compared to most Modern staples, so they’re pretty safe holds if you expect them to be format stalwarts going forward. If anything, you could make an argument that Ancestral Vision is underpriced relative to the amount of play it might be about to see. For example, Dark Confidant is a $50 card that has been reprinted more often than Ancestral Vision. Do you think the new blue-based control decks will see significantly more play than the Jund/Abzan lists that run Dark Confidant? If so, than Vision is probably closer to a $70 or $80 staple.
This would be a pretty significant break from past unbanning trends, though. When Wild Nacatl and Bitterblossom were unbanned, their prices spiked immediately and then began to drop. As it turns out, there was no better time to sell than the hours immediately after the B&R announcement. If Ancestral Vision doesn’t end up seeing any play—perhaps Infect and Affinity are still too fast—it’s a $15-$20 card. Some amount of this risk is still present in Vision’s current price tag. So while I certainly don’t condone speculating on a card with a $50 price tag, it’s probably worth buying or trading for your set now if you’re in the “Ancestral Vision is bonkers” camp.
As for the Sword/Foundry combo, I have to think that the Sword of the Meek half will stay at least twice as high as Thopter Foundry will. Future Sight was massively underprinted compared to Alara Reborn, and make sure you don’t overpay for Thopter Foundry foils—because of the Alara block foil packs, there are more of these out there than average. Sword of the Meek is certainly a $20 card if the combo ends up in a Tier 1 deck, and it might be a $30-$35 card if it takes over the format. Otherwise, it’s probably a $10-$15 card just as a second-tier enabler. Much like with Ancestral Vision, I don’t actually hate buying in at current retail if you want to play the deck.
All three of these cards will probably be in Modern Masters 2017, so be sure to sell before then. They could also be in Eternal Masters—all three have been Legacy-legal for a while, after all—so there’s certainly some risk of them being reprinted this summer as well. That’s why I would only buy these cards if you’re hoping to actually play the cards relatively soon. If you’re holding on spec, you might as well trade for something a little more stable and lock in your profits.
What other cards have gotten better thanks to the unbannings? It’s too early to say until we start to see some decklists, but here are some early contenders (in alphabetical order):
Academy Ruins—Allows you to get pieces of the Thopter/Sword combo back from your graveyard. Don’t go too crazy here, though—even the most dedicated Thopter/Sword decks are probably only going to want one or two of these at most.
Bitterblossom—Could Faeries make a comeback? It’s good with Ancestral Vision and against control, so it’s certainly possible. If so, Bitterblossom, foil Spellstutter Sprite, Vendilion Clique, and Mistbind Clique could all see an uptick in price.
Cryptic Command—Slots nicely into a U/x control deck. Power level is undeniable. Should start to rise as we move away from Modern Masters 2015 anyway.
Engineered Explosives—Great way to disrupt Thopter/Sword while also cleaning up the battlefield against Affinity and Infect.
Ensnaring Bridge—Yep, this silly card is even better now that you can maneuver with your army of 1/1 Thopter tokens, which I suspect will be at least tried as a new win condition in Lantern Control.
Etched Champion—Awful against colorless Eldrazi decks, but good against control. Could make a comeback in the coming months.
Hurkyl’s Recall—Common sense: if more people are playing blue and more people are playing with artifacts, more people will play with blue’s best answer to artifacts.
Muddle the Mixture—Transmutes for both halves of the Thopter/Sword combo. Non-foils are already up to three bucks on speculation, and you probably have a few sitting around in your bulk somewhere. Time to fish them out.
Remand—One of the most powerful cards in Modern, good in decks with Vision, and underpriced now because of the MM15 version. Get a set now if you ever plan on playing blue in Modern.
Stony Silence—One of Modern’s most potent sideboard cards is even better now, though it might not go up in price if Affinity starts to see a lot less play.
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas—This card has so much synergy in the Thopter/Sword deck I’d be surprised if it doesn’t see play in some sort of U/B control shell.
Tezzeret the Seeker—This easily tutors for whatever half of the Thopter/Sword combo you’re missing and ultimates to kill very quickly.
Thirst for Knowledge—Thirst is unbelievably powerful in the right sort of deck—and Thopter/Sword is the right sort of deck. I suspect this card will see a major resurgence over the next couple of weeks. Grab foils ASAP.
Time Sieve—it’s not hard to go infinite with this if you’ve got Thopter/Sword going, which is why it’s up to $10 on speculation. I suspect this ends up being a win-more strategy, though it can certainly maintain its price tag as a two-of in one version of the deck. Note that Krark-Clan Ironworks can also be used to go infinite with Thopter/Sword, though it costs two more mana.
Voice of Resurgence—If control makes a comeback, so will one of the best anti-control hate cards. No one wants to open Dragon’s Maze packs, so this could get pretty expensive.
What cards or decks might get worse? Well, I doubt Affinity is going anywhere, though it might be a little worse with more dedicated artifact hate running around. R/G Tron is worse without access to Eye of Ugin, but I doubt it’s totally dead. Is the Eye banning enough to kill Eldrazi entirely? Potentially, but I wouldn’t count the deck out just yet. I suspect it’ll morph into something far less explosive, though.