Let me be upfront with you: the reason you’re seeing this article today and not on Monday is because I was hoping for a Standard ban. I wanted WotC to bring the hammer down on Felidar Guardian, opening up the format and allowing Amonkhet to shine as brightly as possible. I wanted to spend the week diving into the best post-combo strategies for Standard. It was going to be awesome.
Here’s the thing, though. Felidar Guardian (or Saheeli Rai—I’m assuming WotC would rather ban the less exciting card, though) was unlikely to be banned this week. From a historical perspective, Standard bans are very rare. In the past ten years, it’s only happened twice. We just think that it’s more likely to happen than it actually is because of recency bias—the most recent ban was only a few months ago, so it seems like something that happens quite often. And thanks to the effects of nostalgia, today’s Standard feels worse than many other similarly frustrating iterations of the format. Those two feelings combine to create a sense that a ban was far more likely to come down than it actually was.
Even more importantly, WotC already has what they believe to be an answer for Felidar Guardian: the entirety of Amonkhet. If a new set wasn’t on the verge of being released, a ban would have been far more likely. Instead, I think WotC is crossing literally all of their fingers that something in Amonkhet will help refresh the format.
Will this gambit pay off? I actually think that the odds are better than 50:50 that it will. The good news is that games of Standard aren’t actually that bad right now, and neither of the two top decks is a chore to play against. The problem is that there are basically just two decks to choose from, so you end up slogging through the same matches over and over again. If Amonkhet can add another couple of viable Tier 1 options to the roster, Standard could go from frustrating to legitimately good in the span of just a couple of weeks.
And don’t forget—the cost of banning a top card in Standard is incredibly high. While some people might stop going to Standard tournaments for a while if they don’t love the format, telling someone that they are forever banned from playing a deck that they just spent $200 on is a great way to permanently drive them into the arms of another card game. I’m sure that a quick poll of the Magic community would greatly favor an immediate ban, but the burden that dissenting minority group would have to pay if Felidar Guardian was banned would be far, far greater.
That being said, if Felidar Guardian is still a problem in seven weeks, it’ll be gone. Aaron Forsythe basically said as much on Twitter. You can wait another seven weeks, right? It’s not that much time. Batman vs. Superman was about that long. As always, stay on top of the latest Standard trends and I’ll do my best to let you know if a ban is looking likely once the post-PT numbers are in.
Before you speculate on some sweet new piece of tech from Amonkhet, then, make sure it’s got game against Saheeli combo. I like Jim Davis’s advice: focus on decks that contain either Manglehorn or Censor. With any luck, the format will open up from there and we can all move on to sweeter things like mummies and pyramids and whatnot.
No More Miracles
There were some major changes on Monday, however, including one absolute bombshell. As of Monday, Sensei’s Divining Top has been banned in Legacy. Wow—so much for the format’s best and most popular deck! What happens next is anyone’s guess, but I’ll try to run down the leading theories as I’ve been able to unravel them.
First of all, there will a contingent of players who will try to keep the fun alive with Soothsaying, Scroll Rack, or some other janky Sensei’s Divining Top replacement. These patches may create some interesting financial spikes (I’m writing this on Monday afternoon and Soothsaying is in the middle of a buyout that should take it above $5 for the first time ever), but I don’t expect them to last. If you see some card being hailed as a way to keep Miracles alive as the best deck even though Top is gone, be very skeptical and sell into the hype.
That being said, I wouldn’t mind having shares of Mirri’s Guile and Sylvan Library right now. Some of the rogue and lower-tier Divining Top decks are probably going to use these as replacements, which should cause some low but fairly sustainable growth. The fact that a “this could save Miracles!” buyout could turn your smart buy into a quick flip is just icing on the cake.
By the way, the actual card Sensei’s Divining Top shouldn’t drop in price very much. Top is very popular in Commander, and casual play is actually a bigger driver of demand than Legacy is right now. Eternal Masters already caused Top to crater, and you can snag them for just $10 at the moment. There are more than enough Commander players to satisfy that figure long-term, so any drop below this price is likely to be temporary.
I expect Counterbalance to stabilize around $10 as well, and if you can get either card for significantly less (from a player angry about the ban, say) you should buy in. Otherwise, just hold onto your copies for now. The market is going to be flooded (well, as flooded as it gets with Legacy staples) over the next couple of weeks as frustrated Eternal mages go searching for their next deck. Just as we like to sell into hype, I recommend holding through turmoil. It might not ever see top-tier play again, but it’s the sort of card that will spike when some innocuous spell is previewed late next year and the entire Internet decides that it’s the rebirth of Miracles.
Moving on, I expect Deathrite Shaman to be the next card up on the Legacy chopping block. It might not actually be banned anytime soon, but it’ll probably be the card that the format’s most active players are the most up-in-arms about. This might cause a short-term surge of interest in base-G/B decks like Grixis Delver, Sultai Control, Four-Color Control, Bant Deathblade, and Elves, but these decks were good already.
The sad truth is that waxes and wanes in Legacy popularity rarely move the financial needle because the player base is small and most active Legacy players have massive collections already. So yeah, Deathrite Shaman should be better, but how many active Legacy players don’t already have a set of a non-mythic rare from Return to Ravnica? Exactly.
If you want to speculate along these lines, I’d at least think about Leovold, Emissary of Trest. It’s a $60 card, but it might end up closer to $100 this summer if Legacy ends up being as Sultai-heavy as some fear. Conspiracy: Take the Crown boxes are decent buys right now for the exact same reason. The only problem? Leovold was banned in Commander this week, too! I don’t know how much of the demand was due to casual play versus Legacy and Vintage, but I’m still bullish on Leovold long-term. I would have been a lot more enthusiastic if he were still legal in Commander, though.
What else gains with Miracles’s loss? Well, Storm is certainly happy never to face down another Counterbalance. Elves is breathing a sigh of relief that Terminus is toast. Blood Moon decks should be better now. Most of the blue players will opt for some sort of Delver build, likely of the Sultai variety in order to take advantage of Deathrite Shaman. Lands is happy to be rid of Miracles, but it’ll have to contend with a greater number of Storm and Blood Moon players now.
Financially, there isn’t a lot of action to take here—all of these decks are pricey and well-known already. It is worth noting that lots of decks benefit from this ban, though, so there might be a slight bump in the Legacy price index overall as some lapsed players whose favorite decks hadn’t been doing well recently decide to buy back in. True-Name Nemesis is one card I’m looking at more specifically—with Terminus gone, it could end up being a major player in Legacy again. It’s $25 right now, and it could easily end up at double that price. Lion’s Eye Diamond decks are also a lot better, but I have no idea how much higher that card can feasibly go. I’d expect more modest gains in the 10-20% range—not enough to warrant speculation, but if you’ve been holding off on buying these for a while, you should do so ASAP.
What else is hurt by the ban? Unfortunately, Doomsday ends up as the biggest innocent casualty. It can’t really function without Sensei’s Divining Top, and that might actually be deader than Miracles right now. Most of this deck’s cards are good in other strategies, though, so there aren’t any must-sells here right now.
With as much salt as there is out there about the Miracles ban right now, I can’t help but feel that it might be a good thing in the long run. As far as I can tell, it makes most of the other decks in the format (including a lot of beloved fan favorites) a lot better. It’s sad that one of the last pure control decks in Magic has been banned, and I would have vastly preferred a softer touch (banning just Terminus, say), but I’m cautiously optimistic that the ban will ultimately help one of Magic’s very best formats climb to even greater heights.
This Week’s Trends
The Prerelease is behind us, and we’re in that lovely liminal period between the reveal of the last cards and their first appearances in Standard. This is one of the most opportune times to make money in Magic finance. When Aether Revolt was released, for example, this is the week that Walking Ballista began to climb.
I don’t see a Walking Ballista in Amonkhet yet, but there are a few cards that surged past their initial pre-order prices last week: Hazoret the Fervent, Rhonas the Indomitable, Glorybringer, and Insult//Injury.
It’s no coincidence that three of these cards are red. Many of the pros seem quite high on aggressive red decks going into the new Standard, and it appears as though all of the pieces are finally here. I loved Glorybringer when I first saw it, and I still wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up in multiple great decks. Grab a few copies now if you haven’t yet.
Months ago, I predicted that the Amonkhet Gods would be pushed for Standard play because WotC did not want a repeat of Theros where most of their flagship cards did not show up at any of the top tables. Even though I was tough on Hazoret the Fervent in my set review, I’ve read enough from pros I respect (including the legendary red mage Adrian Sullivan) to convince me that Hazoret has a good shot at being a very impactful card in Standard. Grab a set now if you like playing aggressive decks. I was very high on Rhonas the Indomitable to begin with, and nothing I’ve read recently has changed my mind. I still expect Rhonas to make a major splash in Standard.
What’s dropping in Amonkhet? So far, it’s As Foretold, Glorious End, Vizier of the Menagerie, Champion of Rhonas, Harsh Mentor, Glyph Keeper, and Samut, Voice of Dissent. None of these should be a surprise if you read my set review, but it’s worth remembering that we haven’t seen a real game of Amonkhet Standard played yet. I’m still trading these away, but it’s because I was low on them to begin with. If you believe in one of these cards, don’t look at the numbers and panic – there’s simply no data yet, so whatever drew you to those cards to begin with still holds true. You can start reacting next week once we know a bit more about what the metagame might look like.
There were two major spikes in Modern last week—Devoted Druid and Quillspike. Devoted Druid is an arbitrarily large mana combo with Vizier of Remedies, and Quillspike can get arbitrarily large with that combo while combining with Devoted Druid on its own. To me, the Druid/Vizier combo is more interesting and I’d expect the Druid to maintain more of its post-spike bump. Quillspike is just a tad too cute. I’m selling these into hype regardless, though, and I’m also hedging my bets by picking up Chord of Calling. If the Druid/Vizier combo takes off, the deck is probably running four copies of that spell, so demand should go way up. In the meantime, it’s a pretty safe spec regardless.
Also up in Modern: Surgical Extraction, Maelstrom Pulse, Cryptic Command, Krark-Clan Ironworks, and Plunge into Darkness. These are demand-based gains, not buyouts, so expect their prices to keep slowly ticking up.
There wasn’t much movement in Legacy or casual play last week. Concordant Crossroads continues to rise (even the Chronicles version), Digeridoo continues to rise, Magister Sphinx ticked, and the Arabian Nights version of Sindbad gained a few bucks. With these cards, of course, supply is so low that even one or two buyers can cause the market to react.
Some major new set news broke last week: in mid-November, we’ll be getting Iconic Masters. I’ll do a full article trying to predict this one in the near future, but it’s worth noting now that this might be a step toward permanently moving the Masters slot from early spring to the holiday season. If so, it could mean that we’re getting Modern Masters 2019 as early as the end of 2018!
One quick note: WotC has already made it clear that there will not be any Reserved List cards in Iconic Masters. As much as the community wants the Reserved List gone, I still don’t see any signs that such a move is imminent. Financially, then, there’s not much action worth taking at the moment. In my future “Predicting Iconic Masters” article, I’ll do my best to see what cards you might want to consider selling before the set drops. We aren’t going to get to find out what might be in there until HASCON in September, though, so we’ve got some time to make those sales.
WotC also made some announcements last week that will affect organized play going forward. The biggest financial news has to do with the fact that Pro Tours are going to start taking place five weeks after the release of a set instead of the usual two. While some pros have expressed their dislike of this move, it’s wonderful for those of us who play most of our Magic at the FNM level. Standard formats should take a little longer to feel “solved,” and it should stimulate the market as players will have to build a deck right away instead of just waiting the two weeks to see what the pros come up with.
The other OP changes shouldn’t have much of a financial effect on the game. Nationals is back (good), Pro Tour Top 8 brackets are back to being traditional (good), Top 8 payouts are becoming a little more top-heavy (the pro community doesn’t love this), RPTQs now have a scaling invite system (good), and tournament organizers can now charge entry fees for RPTQs (boo!). This last point is frustrating, but some are speculating that it may thin the field a bit and prevent more causal qualified players from attending these events—good news for the dedicated grinders.
The RPTQ promo for next season has been revealed as Inkmoth Nexus. Nonfoils currently go for $20 and Mirrodin Besieged foils go for $100, so if recent history holds, you can expect the RPTQ card to end up in the $70-$90 range. That’s not as high as some past promos, but it’s not awful, either.
Last, Protean Hulk was unbanned in Commander on Monday. It was a $5 card before the announcement, but Commander players are going to love this bad boy—not only is it a great combo creature, it’s just plain good in any deck that uses big green creatures. Expect it to settle in the $15-$20 range.