Many journalists begin their analysis of presidential elections three years before they happen. There are advance polls, demographic surveys, trend lines,
regression curves, projections, and an ever-decreasing margin of error as election night approaches.
The Iowa Caucus is generally considered the official start of election season. This is the first time that real votes are cast for a candidate in the
primary. The candidate who takes Iowa often goes on to win their party’s nomination, too – Barack Obama won Iowa in the Democratic Primary in 2008 and
2012, and John Kerry won in 2004. That isn’t always the case, though – Rick Santorum won Iowa in the Republican Primary in 2012, and Mike Huckabee took the
state in 2008.
Election coverage, much like Magic finance, is an echo chamber desperate for meaningful data. That means that whenever there is a paucity of useful
information, the pundits will chase their own tails for weeks at a time. When the Iowa Caucus comes around again in 2015, you can bet that there will be an
eternity of coverage dedicated to extrapolating that data into infinity. It will be the first truly relevant point of data relating to the 2016
presidential election, and it will be rendered close to meaningless through over-analysis.
This is the same risk that I am taking here when talking about the results from Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. Much like an early presidential primary, a Block
Pro Tour tells the first part of the story of what will happen in Standard this fall. It’s possible that the format’s frontrunner has already emerged, but
it’s equally likely that a powerful competitor will come along between now and then and change the metagame entirely. Analysis of the event is useful, but
putting too much faith in these numbers gets you $10 Wolfir Silverhearts – a terrible spec that emerged from Block Pro Tour Avacyn Restored.
Last year’s Block Pro Tour results were a mix of useful data points and red herrings. Craig Wescoe’s Pro Tour-winning Selesnya deck leaned on Voice of
Resurgence and Advent of the Wurm, two cards that spent the rest of the year stuck in Tier Two decklists. Josh Utter-Leyton took third with a Boros deck
that ran Legion’s Initiative, a card (and color combination) that did nothing else for twelve months and counting. My favorite deck in the event belonged
to Rob Castellon, and it won by using Standard powerhouses like Gatecreeper Vine, Deadbridge Chant, and Alms Beast.
On the other hand, five of the Top 8 decks in the event were based in UW, a harbinger for the fall. These control decks leaned on Jace, Architect of
Thought and Sphinx’s Revelation, two cards that defined Standard last year. This tournament was the first real competitive play we had seen from Jace, and
the card jumped from $10 to $15 based on these results. Even if you bought in at $15, you would have been pleased when the card surged past $25 in the
fall. Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Detenton Sphere, and Supreme Verdict were among the other cards that were heavily played in Block and went on to dominate
Standard last year. Had you bought any of those cards last summer, you would have had ample opportunity to trade them for a profit later on.
How can we find the next Jace while avoiding the next Legion’s Initiative? Some of it comes down to luck, but if you look at enough Block results, patterns
do begin to emerge.
- Power often trumps synergy in Block. Pros will often build clunky control decks designed to abuse the best cards in the format, even if the overall deck
Build-around-me cards are harder to use in Block because they require you to sacrifice overall power and your pool for finding complimentary spells is
cut in half.
Aggressive decks tend to be subpar in Block. They are often missing at least one playset each of their crucial one- and two-drops. This allows control
decks to safely run a little slower than normal.
Sometimes, all you need is a certain effect – a control finisher, a wrath, etc. – to finish a good deck. Decks will gravitate toward the best one in
Block, which may not be the best one in Standard when all is said and done.
The Block metagame tends to have fewer good decks than Standard does, which makes narrow answers better. A card like Unravel the Aether can be a Block
all-star and a Standard dud.
is a little messy.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the Pro Tour Journey into Nyx results and see if we can figure out what some of next season’s Standard decks will look
The BUG Control Deck
If I had to pick a breakout deck of the Pro Tour, it would be this one. While it didn’t take down the event, it was incredibly popular among the big name
pros, and many who ran it made it to the top tables. While there was some variance among the lists, most of them ran the following cards as a baseline:
- 4 Temple of Malady
- 4 Temple of Mystery
- 4 Temple of Deceit
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Prognostic Sphinx
- 4 Hero’s Downfall
- 3-4 Silence the Believers
- 3-4 Kiora, the Crashing Wave
Let’s start with the lands. The Temples were all over this event, which is to be expected – they’re the best source of fixing in Block, and they’d see
heavy play here even if they were significantly worse. I still like them more than most for Standard next season, as they’ve seen even more play than the
shock lands in that format in recent months. This tournament didn’t really tell us anything about these cards that we didn’t already know, though.
Courser of Kruphix and Sylvan Caryatid are much more interesting. These cards have been Tier One Standard staples since release, and they’ve more than
proven their worth in Block now, too. Sylvan Caryatid is held back somewhat by being a Buy-a-Box promo and seeing print in a large fall set, but this card
has never really fallen below $5. As the fall approaches, it could hit $10-$12 pretty easily.
Courser of Kruphix is an even better buy. It’s from a small set, which means that the supply is smaller, and it has proven itself good enough for Modern as
well as Standard. The Pro Tour raised the price of this card to $13, but it could hit $15 or even $20 if it ends up in the best deck this fall, which isn’t
really a stretch. If you want to play green next season, don’t wait on these.
Prognostic Sphinx went from $0.50 to $1.50, which is pretty low for a card that just dominated a Pro Tour. It seems that most people identified this as a
Block-only card, which prevented a major price spike. So is there any upside here, or was the Sphinx simply the best available control finisher last
Honestly, I think people are sleeping on this guy, but only a little bit. The Magic finance community dismissed him very quickly as a product of his
environment – after all, he didn’t see any play in Standard leading up to the event. The reason he showed up in force last weekend has more to do with a
card that wasn’t legal: Supreme Verdict. Without a playable sweeper, decks were forced to use targeted removal in order to clear away threats. Prognostic
Sphinx is a great trump against cards like Silence the Believers, and it provides card selection while picking off opposing Planeswalkers.
Could Prognostic Sphinx see play this fall? That depends on if we get a good wrath spell between now and then. If so, this guy will find himself flapping
back toward the bulk bin in favor of creatures that provide value immediately when they come into play. If not, he could easily be one of the defining
cards of the new format. Buying in now doesn’t make any sense, but the price will likely have dropped back down to bulk by the time new set spoilers start
rolling in. If there’s no good wrath, I’m buying a hundred of these immediately. I doubt that will come to pass, though.
I’m in the same camp when it comes to Silence the Believers. Control decks in this format needed a way to generate card advantage late in the game without
Sphinx’s Revelation and a way to deal with pesky opposing creatures. Silence the Believers is both of those things. I bet we’ll see better ways of doing
both between now and fall, but if not, this spell will do in a pinch. Wait until the price dies down a bit – it’s at $2 now – and pick up a set or two if
the next block feels underpowered for control.
How many ways can I tell you to buy Hero’s Downfall? This card was as high as $15, but it’s just $6 now – up $1 from last week. No matter what the format
looks like in the fall, one of the best decks is going to be running four copies of this. At the same time, the supply will have dried up considerably. Not
only do I think it’s possible that this will be a $15 card again, I think it’s incredibly likely. If you want to play black next year, buy your set of
Kiora is down to $15, which means that there is finally a little bit of opportunity here. Kiora’s absolute floor is $10 – that’s the lower limit for a
Planeswalker that has strong casual appeal and hasn’t been re-printed. If Kiora doesn’t show up in a duel deck this fall, I can’t see her going any lower
than $12-$15 anytime soon.
The upside here is fairly significant, too. Kiora is very strong in the right deck and has seen enough play in Standard to make me think that she has a
real shot at being in a very good post-rotation Standard deck. If that happens, she’ll shoot up to $25 or $30 without a problem. I wouldn’t go out and buy
several sets of these, but trading for them at current value seems fine.
Thoughtseize saw play in some of the BUG builds, and that’s another one I like for the fall. It’s actually down to $18 now, and demand is flagging as we
enter the summer doldrums. We know that the card is a Legacy and Modern staple, so at some point it becomes a must-buy. At $15, I’ll be trading for them
all day long. There is no chance that demand will drop in the fall.
Reaper of the Wilds showed up in several of the BUG decks as well, and it was usually the best card off the bench in the sideboard matchups were it was
brought in. The card was a two-of in an event deck, though, which gives it very little financial upside.
Most BUG players ran Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver in their sideboards, but Josh Utter-Leyton devoted four maindeck slots to the forgotten Planeswalker. Ashiok
is down to just $7, so the upside here is pretty huge – this is a $35 card if it sees a lot of maindeck play in the fall. The BUG deck likes to sit behind
Coursers and Caryatids, making Ashiok fairly unstoppable in certain matchups. My issue here is that I can’t imagine that next year’s Standard will be any
more durdly and Esper-centric than this year’s, where Ashiok saw very little play. It’s possible that the format will shift in this direction, but I
wouldn’t bet on it. I’m staying away.
The Junk Midrange Deck
- 2 Polukranos, World Eater
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 4 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
Chapin tested BUG before opting into Junk Midrange, a deck he designed himself that ended up being the perfect metagame call. Like the BUG deck, this build
leans on the combined power of Sylvan Caryatid, Courser of Kuphrix, Hero’s Downfall, Silence the Believers, and Thoughtseize. Unlike BUG, Chapin’s deck was
capable of getting aggressive with Fleecemane Lion and Brimaz, King of Oreskos. He could also go over the top with Elspeth, arguably the most powerful card
in the format.
The unsung hero of this deck was the interaction between Mana Confluence and Courser of Kruphix. The incidental life gain off the Coursers allowed Chapin
to play the full four Confluences, which in turn gave him the ability to run Brimaz’s double white, Courser’s double green, and Hero’s Downfall’s double
black. I wouldn’t be shocked if this interaction makes the leap into Standard, giving green decks the ability to easily reach into multiple colors for
powerful cards. Mana Confluence is still $18, so it’s too expensive for a spec, but I expect the card to continue proving itself over the coming months.
I’m glad that Patrick was able to win with Brimaz, because he has always been very high on that card. His rationale for playing it in a midrange shell was
that there are very few cards cheaper than it that deal with it, and in the meantime it can win a game all by itself. We’ve yet to see the aggressive
Brimaz deck materialize, but I wouldn’t be shocked if people started playing it more as a value creature like Chapin did going forward. It has some upside
left at $25, but I think it could drop lower first between now and September.
Fleecemane Lion was the perfect metagame call at in Atlanta. Much like Prognostic Sphinx, this card is close to unstoppable in a format where players are
forced to rely on combat and spot removal to deal with creatures. This card was massively hyped leading up to Theros’s release, but I still don’t love it
going forward. If it does see play, it’ll only be in a deck or two, and it’s not going to be nearly as strong in a format that has a solid board wipe.
What about Elspeth going forward? She’s clearly powerful, and her emergence in this block tournament is very similar to Jace’s dominance in 2013. Unlike
Jace, who was $10 before the last block Pro Tour, Elspeth is a strong $25 right now. Most of the upside is already priced out of this card, and even though
she might hit $30-$40 in the fall, dropping $100 on a playset now is just too risky. I’d suggest waiting until mid-August when Standard demand is it is
lowest and look to buy in at $18 or so. It might not be possible, but if it is, remember this event and snag your copies. I don’t think Elspeth’s dominance
was a fluke, and I do expect her to be a format cornerstone this fall.
The Junk Constellation Deck
It’s kind of fitting that Chapin and Nam played each other in the finals, as these were the two most similar decks in the Top 8. Where Chapin opted for
power, Wook opted for synergy. His Eidolon/Herald/Maggot/Banishing Light engine provided some insane draws, and he tended to overwhelm his opponents with a
cavalcade of awesome spells and mismatched basic lands.
Unfortunately, this is the sort of deck that isn’t going to improve much with whatever the next set brings us. It needs a critical mass of enchantments to
work, and I have a hard time seeing WotC giving us a bunch of creatures that are also enchantments for two blocks running. Without the Eidolon engine, I
can’t see Brain Maggot showing up all that much, though it’s very likely that Banishing Light and Herald of Torment will still end up as Standard staples.
Oblivion Ring has proven itself year after year, and Herald of Torment is a fantastic aggressive creature. Neither are quite as good when they don’t draw
you a card, of course, but both make for reasonable pick-ups.
The R/W Heroic Deck
At first glance, this looks more like a really good Draft deck than a Constructed deck at all. Akroan Crusader! Favored Hoplite! Dragon Mantle! Phalanx
Leader! I somehow doubt any of these cards are good enough for Standard.
The most interesting card here is probably Launch the Fleet, which is a total blowout if you’re ahead on the right kind of board and a total brick if
you’re not. It’s possible that an aggressive white deck will emerge that wants this in Standard, but even so we’d be talking about an increase in price
from $1.50 to $3 – not exactly the kind of profit that dreams are made of. Ultimately, I’d dismiss this list as “Block needed an aggressive deck” and leave
it at that.
The R/G Elspeth Deck
- 1 Polukranos, World Eater
- 4 Polis Crusher
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Voyaging Satyr
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
Both Ichikawa and Mengucci made it into the Top 8 with this archetype. My least favorite thing about it is the name – R/G Elspeth? How do you think the
other white cards in the deck feel? Ajani, Banishing Light, and Chained to the Rocks would have at least appreciated this being called ‘Big Naya’ or
This is another one of those archetypes that tries to string a couple of good things together. You’ve got the Caryatid/Courser dynamic that almost all the
best decks played, a great interaction between Ajani, Mentor of Heroes and Elspeth, and the extra ramp that Voyaging Satyr and Xenagos gives you to power
out Stormbreath Dragon, Polukranos, and early Elspeths. Polis Crusher is there, too, presumably to help tie the room together and hate on all the
enchantments running around.
Xenagos seems like a pretty decent target to start with. Much like Ashiok, you can pick these up for just $7 right now. That’s quite low considering that
the card has seen a fair amount of Standard play to this point. Mengucci’s version of the deck in this event ran three of these as well. If a RG ramp deck
makes the transition, which shouldn’t be out of the question considering the synergy between Caryatid, Courser, and Stormbreath Dragon, Xenagos should be
in the mix somewhere. This is a fine trade target at retail with the strong possibility of doubling your value.
Stormbreath Dragon itself is already up at $15, so there’s much less upside. I do expect the card to see play next year in whatever big red deck shows up,
though, so holding your set or trading for a personal playset at retail is totally fine.
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes is still massively overpriced at $25. He’d have to drop to Kiora levels before I’d consider buying in at all.
Chained to the Rocks is far from a universal choice in the R/G Elspeth deck, and I doubt a similar Naya concoction will make the transition into Standard.
If you’re buying this card, it’s because you think Boros will make a comeback in the fall. If enough of the right cards are spoiled, this becomes a really
intriguing target at just $1.50.
This Week’s Trends
I will do a full Conspiracy set review next week. In the meantime, I suggest avoiding any pre-order purchasing of singles unless there is a foil rare
legend that you desperately want for a Commander deck. This set will be heavily drafted – it is not a limited release – and most of the cards in it don’t
have a home outside of the draft format. Some of the conspiracies will be great in casual cubes, but they’re not legal to play in Commander and they won’t
sell or trade that well.
Don’t forget that these cards won’t be Modern legal, either, so even if something like Dack Fayden is amazing, you’re limited to the Vintage, Legacy, and
casual market. I’ve seen pre-orders for him in the $60 range, and I don’t think he’s got a chance in the world of maintaining that value.
If you want to pick up sealed product, I recommend it, but don’t pay too much above retail. This set will be very popular, but it won’t be Modern Masters
in terms of available product.
We’ve got a tiny bit of information and a whole lot of idle speculation about the new block! We know that the first set is called Khans of Tarkir, and it’s
set on a plane where dragons have been dead for a long time. Well, if they’re all gone, we surely won’t see a set called Dragons of Tarkir at any point, will we? Flavor wise, it
looks like we might be getting a Game of Thrones-esque world, similar to how we got Innistrad about three years after vampires became super popular. That
would be fine by me.
I’ve heard a lot of speculation that Khans will be a ‘wedge’ set similar to Shards of Alara, but with the other groups of three colors. This is based on
the fact that we’ve seen two pieces of art from the set, and both of them are rendered exclusively in red, black, and white. Despite the fact that we just
came out of a multicolored set, I could totally see this happening. It’s on the short list for ‘block that will inevitably happen at some point very soon’
at any rate.
I was talking with Emma about this theory last night. “So there’s BUG, and RUG, and Junk, and America.” She said. “But what is the black/white/red one
“Dega,” I told her.
“Where did that name come from?”
“It’s from Apocalypse,” I told her. “There were a bunch of wedge prefixes back then: Ceta, Dega, Ana, Raka, and Nekra.”
“That’s dumb. Apocalypse was fifteen years ago. We need a new name. How about Newspaper?”
“Why Newspaper?” I asked her.
“Because they’re black and white and red all over.”
So to those of you who are in charge of Magic colloquialisms, may I present Newspaper: clearly the best available name for the B/R/W wedge.