Buying Into Modern Before The Rush

With two Masters sets and a Modern Pro Tour coming up, the most accessible Eternal format is set to become white-hot! Chas Andres shares his best financial moves for SCG Cincinnati and beyond!

Magic’s financial marketplace used to ebb and flow based on seasonal
trends. Cards were always higher in the winter and cheaper in the summer,
following the natural progression of set releases as well as when people
tended to play the most Magic. It was possible—easy, even—to turn a profit
based on following this one general principle.

These days, Magic’s financial marketplace is a lot more dynamic. The
seasonal trends are still there, but our current era feels driven by one or
two indexes rising while the others are out of the spotlight. Prices are
tied to community interest, which tends to bounce around based on set
releases, rotations, Grands Prix, Pro Tours, and format health. Think of
the player base like a dog running around a backyard, bolting from a tree
to a fence to a puddle and back to the tree again. If you can predict where
the dog is going to go next, you can use that information to your financial

Magic is currently in the middle of a uniquely busy period, full of special
events and set releases, but there’s reason to believe that Modern is going
to spend a large portion of the next few months hogging the spotlight.
Check it out:

First, we’re getting two Masters sets in less than six months. Iconic Masters includes many more Modern staples than I had
predicted, and I see no reason why Masters 25 would buck that
trend. Modern interest (and prices) always spikes when Masters
sets are released.

Second, we’re getting our first Modern Pro Tour in years on February 2nd.
Not only is this event going to be incredibly exciting, but it’s
well-positioned right between both of the different Masters set
releases. Even though Rivals of Ixalan will have just come out,
the community isn’t going to be able to ignore Modern during the first
month of 2018.

Third, I fully expect a major Modern ban or unban in the weeks leading up
to the Pro Tour. This happens almost every year, like clockwork, and the
existence of a Modern PT only makes it more likely. Consider this timeline,
working backward:

That’s right—you have to go all the way back to 2012 before you find a year
where there isn’t a major Modern Banned List shake-up at some point in late
January or early February. This inevitably leads to two weeks of
speculation and random buy-outs of banned cards followed by a week of
fallout and random buy-outs of cards that may or may not actually be good
in the “new” Modern format. Again, it will keep the community laser-focused
on Magic’s most popular Eternal format.

There are other effects that may or may not end up driving Modern interest,
too. Modern Opens in Charlotte (this past weekend) and Cincinnati (next
weekend). Modern Grand Prix in Oklahoma City, Toronto, and Lyon over the
next couple of months. The fact that Modern is currently a healthy,
thriving format while Standard is still struggling to overcome the stink of
a really bad twelve months. And, simply, the fact that Eternal prices have
historically tended to peak between late January and mid-March. People will
be sick of Ixalan block by then and will start looking toward
something else. They’ll also be getting their tax refunds in the USA.

Meanwhile, it has been a while since Modern has dominated the spotlight.
There was some price movement early in 2017, when Modern Masters 2017 was released and Death’s Shadow took its turn
as the format’s dominant archetype, but prices have been pretty stagnant
for the past six months. Modern still isn’t cheap, of course, but it’s
experiencing a period of relative quiet. I expect we’ll see a lot of
staples increase in value as the fall turns into winter, and especially
once 2017 makes way into 2018.

When trying to anticipate future growth in a format like Modern, I like to
ask myself a couple of key questions. Let’s tackle them one at a time:

What is the most popular deck in the format? Are its staples being
properly valued, or is there room for further growth?

Modern is pretty wide-open, but the most popular deck is probably Eldrazi
Tron. According to MTG Goldfish, it makes up a little over six percent of
the metagame, putting it about a point ahead of Gifts Storm. MTG Goldfish
data isn’t quite as reliable now that WotC has throttled back on the amount
of data they give us, but it’s still the best overall resource for stuff
like this.

Financially, Eldrazi Tron already has a lot of cards that are incredibly
expensive. First and foremost, you need four copies of Chalice of the Void.
Beyond that, there’s Karn Liberated, All Is Dust, Crucible of Worlds,
Cavern of Souls, Eldrazi Temple, Surgical Extraction, and some more recent
staples like Walking Ballista, Thought-Knot Seer, and Reality Smasher. None
of these cards have fallen below the Magic Finance radar, and most have
experienced multiple spikes over the past year or two.

Can Eldrazi Tron keep growing in price and popularity? I guess. Chalice of
the Void has almost doubled in price this year, and that chart still keeps
creeping up. For the most part, though, these cards have been Tier 1
staples for quite some time and the prices haven’t experienced any of that
summer erosion that makes buying into Modern such an attractive proposition
right now. I see no reason to buy any of the $20+ cards at the moment,
though it might be worth grabbing Thought-Knot Seers, Reality Smashers, and
Matter Reshapers now. Unless Eldrazi Temple is banned (unlikely), these
cards might all be worth twice as much in a year or so.

What’s the cheapest “good” deck in Modern? Is it worth stocking up on
its key cards?

As always, the cheapest deck in Modern that can still perform like a
top-tier brew is Burn. Eidolon of the Great Revel and Goblin Guide are both
relatively cheap right now, but they’re still the most expensive
(non-fetchland) cards in the deck.

I can’t imagine Burn experiences a major resurgence or anything, but when
the community’s eye turns toward a format, decks like these always see an
uptick in popularity. I bet we’ll see both cards experience at least a
small spike this January or February, and I’m glad I own a few sets of

Are there any decks about to see more demand due to upcoming reprints?

Since we know all the cards in Iconic Masters but the set hasn’t
been released yet, this question is worth taking a look at. Remember: some
people are going to open multiple copies of some spicy Modern staple and
decide to use that as an excuse to build a new deck. I did it myself with
Affinity in 2013 and Infect in 2015.

Horizon Canopy is one of the marquee reprints in Iconic Masters,
which could help make Modern Elves and Counters Company the new flavors of
the week. Interestingly enough, both of those decks have a few other major
staples in common. Chord of Calling and Collected Company are four-ofs in
both lists, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see both cards start to tick up
in value once Iconic Masters hits store shelves. Bant Company also
gets the Archangel of Thune reprint, which is another reason why you may
want to look toward getting your Collected Companies while they’re still
under $20.

Aether Vial is another Iconic Masters staple, and Death &
Taxes and Eldrazi & Taxes are the two places where it shows up most.
Both decks use Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, a card that has been
threatening to spike for a couple of months now. I bet it’ll end up in the
$20-$25 range by the end of February.

Of course, Soul Sisters is the deck that benefits most from Iconic Masters. Auriok Champion and Archangel of Thune are both
coming back, and neither sees a ton of play in Modern right now. Their
prices are going to drop significantly, and it’s going to make Soul Sisters
a fairly intriguing “budget” option. In fact, most of the other cards in
Soul Sisters are well under $5.

The big exception is Flagstones of Trokair. My guess is that a lot of Soul
Sisters mages will avoid dropping almost $100 on a set of these, but the
card is required for the best version of the deck, and it has never been
reprinted. I wouldn’t be shocked if someone buys these out the card is
restocked closer to the $50 mark—the current supply is just that low. Grab
a set now if you think you’ll want them once Iconic Masters comes

Are there any dark horse decks about to take the format by storm?

The only problem with speculating on cards from rogue or under-the-radar
decks is that it’s hard to find the sweet spot between viable, emerging
tech and a sweet homebrew that got lucky. I really like browsing

the 5-0 lists that Wizards of the Coast provides
, but it’s worth maintaining a healthy dose of skepticism when reading
those results.

Are people really going to start playing the Mono-Green Ramp deck with
Chord of Calling that went 5-0 in an event a couple of days ago? How about
the Mono-Red Blood Moon brew that was also featured? These are the sort of
decks I’d love to brew up for a local Modern tournament, but I’m not going
to go out and buy a dozen copies of Garruk Wildspeaker based on one result
or one article. One data point does not make a trend.

This goes back to a piece of advice I gave
last week:
when speculating, play to your strengths and your knowledge base. If you
brew a lot of Modern decks, be more aggressive in speculating on new Modern
brews. The rest of us should hold back a bit and make sure that there’s
fire as well as smoke. One rule of thumb: if a new deck makes you really excited to try it out, chances are a lot other people are
going to feel the same way.

One slightly less risky option is to think about investing in a Modern deck
that has a proven track record but has fallen out of favor in the current
metagame. I’m specifically thinking about decks like Infect, Hexproof,
Delver, Lantern Control, Bant Knightfall, Amulet Titan, Living End, and
Blue Moon.

There are good reasons why almost all of these decks have fallen out of
favor, but the best predictor of future success is past success. If the
metagame shifts enough, any one of these decks might find itself back in
the spotlight. This is not a strategy that I recommend for most small-time
speculators, but if you’ve got a big Modern collection already or you
really enjoy trading goals, starting to build some of these decks while
they’re out of favor might end up paying off big. If a deck like Living End
ends up taking down a Modern GP, you’ll see those prices double overnight.

What are Modern’s key staples, and are any of them undervalued right

This last question is the hardest to answer. At the SCG Classic in Dallas
earlier this month, the Top 8 included Jund, Eldrazi Tron, Bant Spirits,
G/R Tron, W/R Prison, Burn, Gifts Storm, and Elves. A few weeks earlier,
the SCG Classic in Louisville had a Top 8 with U/W Control, Jeskai Control,
Ad Nauseam, Esper Gifts, G/W Hexproof, Affinity, and R/G Breach. That’s
fifteen different decks out of a possible sixteen, and it’s not like I
cherry-picked those events—they were literally the two most recent Modern
Classics in the StarCityGames.com Deck Database.

The best I can do here is go back to my MTG Goldfish data and see what
they’re calling the most-played cards in Modern. Again, this data is
unlikely to perfectly match the format diversity we see in paper Magic, but
it’s still really good information for making difficult observations like

Culling every card under $5 (commons like Lightning Bolt and Serum
Visions), here are the twenty most-played cards in Modern right now, with
first place at the top. I’ve included their current value and set of most
recent printing:

Path to Exile – $6.50 (Modern Masters 2017)

Thoughtseize – $20 (Iconic Masters)

Fatal Push – $9 (FNM Promo Foil)

Snapcaster Mage – $55 (Modern Masters 2017)

Inquisition of Kozilek – $5 (Modern Masters 2017)

Relic of Progenitus – $5 (Eternal Masters)

Collective Brutality – $14 (Eldritch Moon)

Stony Silence – $6 (Modern Masters 2017)

Thought-Knot Seer – $8 (Oath of the Gatewatch)

Collected Company – $18 (Dragons of Tarkir)

Liliana of the Veil – $90 (Modern Masters 2017)

Grafdigger’s Cage – $6 (Modern Masters 2017)

Lightning Helix – $6 (Iconic Masters)

Rest in Peace – $10 (Return to Ravnica)

Surgical Extraction – $23 (Modern Masters 2015)

Blood Moon – $25 (Modern Masters 2017)

Sleight of Hand – $6 (Ninth Edition)

Remand – $6 (Modern Masters 2015)

Aether Vial – $45 (Iconic Masters)

Leyline of Sanctity – $28 (Modern Masters 2015)

There is a lot of interesting data to parse here. First, it’s pretty
interesting to note that eleven of the twenty most-played cards in Modern
saw reprints this year, including the top five. You only have to
go back as far as 2015 to pick up all the rest of them, save Sleight of
Hand. That’s remarkable, and it speaks to the good job Wizards of the Coast
is doing right now in making the format more accessible.

On the one hand, you can look at this list and see the futility of going
too deep into any of these cards for too long. I have to believe that 2018
is going to bring more reprints, as are 2019 and 2020. This is clearly a
priority for the company, and you shouldn’t be surprised when any of these
cards come back again soon.

On the other hand, take a look at the “older” cards on this list. Rest in
Peace has tripled in value over the past couple of years. So have Leyline
of Sanctity and Surgical Extraction. There’s clearly some money to be made
here, especially since we’re probably not going to see all of these Modern Masters 2017 reprints showing up again immediately. In most
cases, it’ll probably take at least a year or two. Hmm—how can we use this
to our advantage?

Buying into the Bottom of Modern Masters 2017

Let’s take a look at what has happened to the value of the top cards in Modern Masters 2017 over the past six months. There hasn’t been
any major movement, but we might be able to pick out some subtle trends
that will grow more pronounced as Modern re-takes the community spotlight.

Here are the most expensive cards in Modern Masters 2017, sorted
by value either gained or lost since April 1st of this year:

As you can see, there hasn’t really been a lot of movement. Even Cavern of
Souls didn’t jump $13 entirely because of Modern demand—it’s good in
Eldrazi Tron, sure, but I suspect a lot of that growth was because the last
few months have been all about creature types and the casual/Commander
players all want Caverns for their Pirate and Wizard decks.

Snapcaster Mage went up because it’s the most-played creature in Modern,
though, showing up in a full 19% of all decks according to MTG Goldfish.
Tarmogoyf sees play in less than half that many decks right now, which is
probably why the card has fallen out of demand. Meanwhile, all the other
key cards in Modern Masters 2017 have only made negligible gains
or losses.

I like buying recently reprinted cards because the risk profile is so low.
As I said earlier, we’re probably not going to see most of these cards show
up in Masters 25, though Tarmogoyf always seems to headline these
sets. But is it really worth buying in, or will these cards just bounce
around near their historic lows for the next couple of years since there
are so many copies of them now?

In order to find out, let’s take a look at what has happened to the key
cards in Modern Masters 2015. I’ll measure their current value
against their price on October 16th, 2015. Should you have bought in back
then, or would it have been a mistake?

This is a really heartening list. A few cards jumped out of niche status to
become format staples—All Is Dust, Surgical Extraction, Eldrazi Temple—but
for the most part, this is a list of cards that were good in 2015 and are
still good today. The exceptions are Splinter Twin (banned), Spellskite
(lost almost all of its utility thanks to other cards being banned),
Vendilion Clique (multiple Masters printings, stopped seeing
nearly as much play), and Tarmogoyf (ditto). Even casual cards like Kozilek
and Ulamog saw small gains. Cryptic Command and Primeval Titan would have
been higher if they hadn’t just been announced as reprints in Iconic Masters, too.

For the most part, these cards saw gains in the winter of 2016 and again in
the winter of 2017. Most of them experienced at least one spike higher than
their current price tag. I see no reason why Modern Masters 2017
will be all that different. You’ve got a month, maybe two, to buy low on
cards like Snapcaster Mage, Liliana of the Veil, Inquisition of Kozilek,
Stony Silence, and all the fetchlands.

This Week’s Trends

It was a relatively quiet week in Standard after the craziness of the past
couple of weekends. The Scarab God continues to slowly tick up, and at this
point they’re getting pretty hard to find under $50. Botanical Sanctum was
the second-biggest Standard gainer of the week, following last weekend’s
U/B land spikes. Since it’s a staple in Temur Energy as well as Sultai
Energy, I doubt this is a short-term spike. It’s also worth noting that
these lands see play in Modern, so they’ve got some long-term potential.

On the other side of things, there hasn’t been a lot of price erosion in
Standard as people are mostly holding onto the disappointing cards for now.
Growing Rites of Itlimoc still retails for $11, as does Ripjaw Raptor. The
fact that either card is still close to Search for Azcanta in price is
getting kind of silly.

Yeah, future weeks could eventually bring breakout performances, but is
that a bet you’re really willing to take?
Check out this Ari Lax article, which talks about why Ripjaw Raptor and Regisaur Alpha have been
underperforming relative to expectation. My suggestion? Go find that one
person at your LGS who is obsessed with “getting value” on trades and offer
them these cards in exchange for better ones. Be willing to go 70-80 cents
on the dollar if you have to.

We’ve already talked a lot about the state of the Modern market this week,
and things are still predictably stagnant. Celestial Colonnade continues
its push toward $50, and Horizon Canopy seems to be on the rise again while
we wait for Iconic Masters to drop. Meanwhile, Tarmogoyf continues
to drop off toward its lowest price since 2011. And you know what? I think
it’ll keep getting cheaper. If it’s reprinted again in Masters 25,
it will probably drop below $50.

There were a few notable casual and Old School spikes this week.
Quicksilver Fountain was bought out and seems to be settling in the $5
range after being $1-$2 forever. It’s a fantastic Commander card, but I’ve
had to cut it from multiple decks, since it’s super un-fun to play against.
It can probably handle being a $5 card, though.

Two of the marquee cards in Arabian Nights shot toward the moon
this week, as Erhnam Djinn and City of Brass both broke the $300 mark.
Invoke Prejudice and the Legends version of Nebuchadnezzar spiked,
too. As always, expect these prices to drop off a bit over the coming
weeks, though not back to their pre-spike lows.

Sustaining Spirit, a Reserved List rare from Alliances, was also
bought out a few days ago. I guess it has some combo potential with
Solemnity? I can’t imagine this has any competitive legs, though, so I’m
selling into the hype.