Buying Season, Part One

Chas Andres returns with an examination of what is worth picking up from Theros Block and Magic 2015 as it prepares to rotate out of Standard.

Hey everybody — I’m back!

My life has been pretty crazy over the past month, which is why I haven’t been writing these articles. In less than thirty days, I got married in New Hampshire, flew to Wilmington, North Carolina so that I could find a new home, honeymooned in Costa Rica, flew back to Los Angeles, packed up my apartment, and then drove back to Wilmington with two cats in my back seat.

Now that I’ve caught up with all the latest Magic news (Hangarback Walker! Who knew?) I want to write a bit about which cards you should be looking to pick up over the next month. August and early September tend to be great times to increase the size of your Magic collection as many prices hit their seasonal lows. In particular, two subsets of cards really intrigue me right now:

  • Long-term casual specs from Theros, Born of the Gods, Journey Into Nyx, and M15. I’m looking for cards at or near their historical lows that might not spike for a year or longer but which have a very low risk profile.
  • Short-term Standard specs from Khans of Tarkir, Fate Reforged, Dragons of Tarkir, and Magic Origins. Here, I’m focusing on cards with a high power level that haven’t found a home yet or have fallen out of favor in the current iteration of Standard.

This week is going to be all about long-term specs, and we’ll journey back to Tarkir next Monday.

Man, it feels good to be writing again!

Why Buy Rotating Cards?

All spec purchases come with both risks and rewards. If you buy a set of a $5 Standard rare that you think could break out over the next few weeks, your risk level is fairly high — most Standard rares can’t keep a $5 price tag without seeing play. On the other hand, your potential reward is also pretty high — Tier One Standard rares can jump to $20 or more overnight and are very easy to trade or sell.

Rotating cards are on the opposite end of that spectrum. If you buy an Ashen Rider for the current retail price of $1.27, your risk level is very low: the card simply can’t fall much further in value. On the other hand, your chances of being rewarded over the short term are also close to zero. It’s very unlikely that Ashen Rider will become a breakout card in Modern or Legacy, and its days in Standard are almost over. Even if it does begin to see more play in Eternal formats, the short-term supply is still too high for there to be any kind of meaningful gain for at least a year or two.

So why bother buying Ashen Rider at all? Well, given enough time, a small percentage of cards from every set do see significant gains — your Worldspine Wurms, your Utvara Hellkites, your Chromatic Lanterns, etc. If you buy all of your long-term specs at their absolute nadir, it doesn’t take many notches in the win column for the endeavor to become profitable. After all, your worst-case scenario still involves cashing out your busted specs for a fairly large percentage of the amount you laid out.

If you don’t have a fair amount of disposable income or you’re the kind of player who likes going for the quick flip, this sort of speculation isn’t for you. Keeping your money tied up in long-term casual stuff is silly if you need it to keep churning Standard specs. If you’re a more risk-adverse player who enjoys having a large casual Magic collection in your house anyway, though, this is one of the most foolproof ways to build equity without risk.

Red Flags and Green Lights

Not all rotating cards make for a good long-term spec. Here are the biggest warning signs:

  • Be careful with cards that have never risen above bulk. Labyrinth Champion is an example of a card that will always have a very narrow audience in casual play and will never show up in Modern or Legacy. It’s fine if you can pick them up at ten cents each because you’ll be able to get that back in a bulk rare buylist deal, but don’t go out and spend $0.49 each on every random bulk rare in Theros block. These cards weren’t worth that on release date, and they’re not worth that now.
  • Watch out for cards that haven’t hit bottom yet. These tend to be cards that were good in Standard but which haven’t dropped enough to account for the fact that they’re only going to be used in casual decks and rogue Modern brews now. Sylvan Caryatid is a card I like over the long-term thanks to casual demand, and its current price of $2.71 is a significant discount from the $20 it was worth at its peak, but I have no doubt that the card will fall even further over the next few weeks. Revisit these spells in November or December.
  • Be careful with cards that are clearly not powerful enough for Eternal formats or splashy/narrow enough for casual players. If it has the look of a Block-specific role-player or Limited filler, you can avoid it.

On the flip side, here are the biggest signs of a solid long-term spec:

  • All Mythic Rares should be at least considered. Most Mythics tend to be splashy and unique, which is what you’re looking for. The added scarcity gives it a greater chance of spiking, too.
  • Combo cards are long-term gold. All it takes is Conley Woods or Travis Woo featuring them in a wacky brew once and you’re gold. Best case, you end up with the critical piece to some future Modern deck. Everyone knew Amulet of Vigor would be broken at some point, but the card was readily available under $2 for years.
  • Don’t sleep on the things that casual players love. Discard, reanimation, Dragons, Slivers, mana rocks, etc. If it’s a card that you’ve had good luck trading to Commander or kitchen table players over the past year, it’s probably a good long-term pick-up.

Let’s take a look at the three sets in Theros block as well as M15 and see if we can figure out the best long-term buys.


Good Long-Term Buys

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion can’t drop any further. She’s a casual darling whose Duel Deck won’t be in print for very much longer. All five Gods are on this list, too — they’re iconic kitchen table favorites that will be tough to reprint and have almost no downside. They’re also longshot candidates for Eternal play, giving them some intriguing upside.

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is probably the best play on this list. It’s unique, powerful, beloved, and resistant to another reprint. It should hit $12-$15 over the next two years. Master of Waves also gets my stamp of approval as a Modern-playable card. Swan Song, Anger the Gods, and Ashen Rider all see Eternal play as well.

I put all five Temples on this list, too. The most expensive one is still just two bucks, and even if they don’t see much play in Modern they’ll be popular additions to casual and Commander decks for years. This is the bottom of the market on them for sure.

$0.49 Bulk Rares Worth A Stash

Bident of Thassa, Hammer of Purphoros, Abhorrent Overlord, Reverent Hunter, Rageblood Shaman, Gift of Immortality, Curse of the Swine, Steam Augury, Psychic Intrusion, Tymaret, the Murder King, Polis Crusher, Triad of Fates, Pyxis of Pandemonium, Akroan Horse.

I’m not hording any of these cards in particular, but they’re all at least moderately interesting. Don’t buy them, but picking them out of pure bulk and stashing them for a few years is fine. Bident of Thassa and Abhorrent Overlord would be my picks, but they both saw an additional printing, so they’re likely to be bulk for quite a while. The legendary creatures are decent pick-ups in foil.

Revisit in Three to Six Months

I like all five of these cards over the long haul, but they’re all still trending downward. There’s no reason to buy any of them until they hit bottom. Thoughtseize might drop below $20 again, I’m looking at Ashiok once it drops below $5, Stormbreath Dragon should bottom out around $3, and the other two could hit the $1.50 range.

Born of the Gods

Good Long-Term Buys

Our Born of the Gods buys are cheap — there’s not a single card over $4, and that includes the set’s five Gods and its planeswalker. All six of these cards are at historic lows, and they’re not likely to drop any further — their price charts flatlined a few months ago and have been steady ever since. They’re joined on this list by the two cheaper Temples, which appear to have bottomed out, and a handful of intriguing rares and bulk Mythics.

$0.49 Bulk Rares Worth A Stash

Fated Infatuation, Fated Return, Perplexing Chimera, Fate Unraveler, Plea for Guidance, Oracle of Bones, Hunter’s Prowess, Felhide Spiritbinder, Whelming Wave, Pain Seer, Astral Cornucopia, Heroes’ Podium.

This is a pretty underwhelming list, but Perplexing Chimera, Fate Unraveler, and Plea for Guidance are all moderate Commander staples. Oracle of Bones and Felhide Spiritbinder have some long shot combo potential, too.

Revisit in Three to Six Months

These four cards are still dropping in price, so there’s no reason to buy in now. Brimaz might drop as low as $6, Courser could hit $2-$3, and Temple of Enlightenment might go as low as $2. Hero of Iroas could hit bulk.

Journey Into Nyx

Good Long-Term Buys

Eidolon of the Great Revel is the most interesting card here. It is a four-of in what might be the most powerful Standard deck right now, so there’s a decent chance it’ll start dropping in price as rotation approaches. That said, Eidolon of the Great Revel began spiking thanks to Legacy and Modern demand long before the current iteration of mono-red came to Standard. In this case, I wouldn’t be surprised if the card hits $15 before leveling off.

Keranos, God of Storms and Athreos, God of Passage are quite a bit more expensive than the other Gods we’ve talked about, but they’re still worth a long look. Athreos is incredibly powerful in Commander, and Keranos sees play in Modern. Avoid them at your peril.

Dictate of Erebos has already doubled in price this summer due to casual speculation, but it still has a lot further to rise. Unless it is reprinted in a casual product at some point, it’s a future $5-$8 card.

$0.49 Bulk Rares Worth A Stash

Dictate of Heliod, Dictate of the Twin Gods, Dictate of Karametra, Spawn of Thraxes, Heroes’ Bane, Polymorphous Rush, Master of the Feast, Hypnotic Siren, Twinflame, Battlefield Thaumaturge, Aegis of the Gods, Silence the Believers, Launch the Fleet, Setessan Tactics, Eidolon of Blossoms.

A few of these are slightly over bulk, but are on sale in the $0.50 range right now. They’re all long shots, but a few of them do profile well. Some of them have an outside shot at doing something in Modern, too.

Revisit in Three to Six Months

I’m a Mana Confluence buyer around $5, and I think Ajani will end up in the $5-$6 range as well. Both Temples should end up around $2 and will make solid spec targets at that point.

Magic 2015

Good Long-Term Buys

It’s worth taking stock of the fact that most of these prices were significantly lower last winter. The bottom for causal cards from summer sets, it seems, is around the six month mark. That doesn’t mean you should avoid buying in now if you haven’t done so yet, of course. Chord of Calling and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth see enough Eternal play to justify price tags twice this high. Both of the Sliver-related rares are as close to a can’t-miss spec as it gets, too.

Of the bulk Mythics, The Chain Veil is my favorite target. It has a unique effect, boasts some real combo potential, has a Mythic rarity, and is available at bulk prices – the rare quadruple threat. Ob Nixilis, Unshackled and Hornet Queen are both great choices, too. They’re Commander staples with lots of room to grow.

$0.49 Bulk Rares Worth A Stash

Avacyn, Guardian Angel, Jalira, Master Polymorphist, Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient, Yisan, the Wanderer Bard, In Garruk’s Wake, Spectra Ward, Chief Engineer, Necromancer’s Stockpile, Spirit Bonds, Return to the Ranks, Aggressive Mining, Resolute Archangel, Siege Dragon, Mercurial Pretender, Scuttling Doom Engine.

This is a pretty decent crop of bulk rares. Scuttling Doom Engine is a must in sac-based artifact decks, and there are a few intriguing combo cards here as well. I’d certainly like to be sitting on a pile of Chief Engineers a year or two from now.

Revisit In Three To Six Months

Goblin Rabblemaster doesn’t see enough play to justify a price tag any higher than $3-$4. Both of these planeswalkers have a couple bucks each left to fall, and Obelisk of Urd has been dropping ever since its spike a few weeks ago. Perilous Vault and Hornet’s Nest should each end up closer to $1.50-$2 than $3-$4. Hold off on all of these cards for how.

Again, none of the cards we’ve talked about today are likely to return your investment at any point soon. If you’ve got a few hundred bucks that you’d like to put away for the next couple of years, though, you could do worse than buying playsets of most of the cards on this list. If you’re a casual deckbuilder who can put the cards to good use in the meantime, so much the better.

Otherwise, I’d focus on some of the cards with the highest rewards: Sliver Hive, Sliver Overlord, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, and all ten Gods are a good place to start.

This Week’s Trends

  • The biggest news of the week, of course, was Mark Rosewater announcement that the five Zendikar fetchlands will not be returning in Battle for Zendikar. As a result, the prices saw a massive spike. Scalding Tarn is back up to $90, and Misty Rainforest surged from $35 back up to $80.

    Are these prices sustainable? To some degree, yes, they are. We’ll probably see a 10-15% decrease from current highs as hype dies down and the initial wave of speculators begin to dump fetches back onto the market, but I doubt we’ll see them approach their previous lows until a new set of reprint rumors begin to swirl. If you have Zendikar fetches, selling them now is fine – just don’t expect to get back in much cheaper until WotC does actually bring them back.

    Some people are calling for them to be in the Commander 2015 decks, which were announced to be enemy-colored. I very much doubt this will actually happen. For one, WotC has said repeatedly over the past year and half that they regret having put Tier-One Eternal staples in these decks. They’re supposed to be for Commander players, and I doubt they want all of the Izzet-colored boxes disappearing from store shelves immediately as people flock to get their guaranteed Scalding Tarns.

    Second, Zendikar fetches have a large amount of reprint equity. That’s really valuable to Wizards of the Coast. Put a set of fetchlands in an expansion and you can practically guarantee a boost in sales. Why would you waste such a valuable (and limited) resource in a stand-alone Commander product?

    It’s possible that we’ll see the Zendikar fetches in the winter set, but I doubt WotC will waste such an iconic cycle of lands in a small set. That leaves the spring set (the first large set in an entirely new block!) as the next most likely place for them to pop up. This is also the set that will rotate out Khans of Tarkir, and the allied fetches rotate with it. If Wizards of the Coast wants the (presumed) landfall mechanics of Battle for Zendikar to interact with fetchlands during the entirety of its standard legality while also avoiding having all ten fetches in Standard at any one point, this is where you’d expect them to be. I’m not saying it’s a guarantee that they’ll show up this spring, but I’ll be selling all of my Zendikar fetches before that spoiler season begins.