Entering The Doldrums

In this article, Chas shares a list of cards he’s really high on as medium-term speculation targets and identifies the early risers and early fallers of M14 so far.

If you ever find yourself trapped inside Norton Juster’s classic young adult novel The Phantom Tollbooth, don’t visit The Doldrums. Thinking and laughing are against the law, and smiling is only permitted on alternate Thursdays. Citizens of the Doldrums are called Lethargians, and they spend their days working hard at wasting time. They seem busy—and indeed they are—but nothing actually gets done. The place sounds like, well, most of our jobs probably.

With the M14 launch in our rearview mirror, Magic has entered its annual summer doldrums. From now until Theros previews begin, interest in the game will be at its yearly low. All but the most dedicated grinders are in the process of selling off their Standard staples. Core set fatigue has set in, and many people I’ve talked to are pinching pennies after blowing their bankroll on Modern Masters. This summer’s M14-influenced Standard might turn into an awesome format, but most people will wait until late September before buying in.

I’ll be honest—as a writer, the next few months always kind of stink. As a speculator, however, the summer doldrums are awesome. During the rest of the year, whenever anyone asks me when they should buy for their casual or Eternal decks, I always answer "August." 99% of the time, though, people are going to cave and buy their cards immediately anyway. Well, mercifully, later is now. If you’ve been holding out on picking up those last few pieces for your favorite decks, this is the season to buy. And if you’re a speculator holding some cash for the right time, here it is.

In honor of our first week in the doldrums, I’m going to start things off with a list of cards I’m really high on as medium-term speculation targets. In some cases, I’d suggest going out and buying some of these cards right away. In a few specific instances, I already did.

Medium-Term Speculation Targets

Angel of Serenity – $7

Angel of Serenity preordered at $6 and stayed there for approximately seven hours before rocketing toward $25. It dropped back down to $6 in early March before jumping back up to $20 in mid-April. After spending most of the early summer at $10, the Angel is back down to just $7 despite still seeing a bunch of play in Standard.

It’s true—several of the cards that make this one good are rotating in the fall. That said, this is one of the most backbreaking control creatures ever made, and it is easily abusable in many different shells. It sees a bunch of play right now, and I fully expect it to have another $20 peak before it rotates.

Rakdos’s Return – $4

This card has never been cheaper—$4 is its historical low. It started at $15 before dropping after the initial hype, but it had a legitimate and lengthy peak at $10 this spring. It is very hard for me to believe that a mythic rare this powerful won’t find a place in the new Standard, and most Jund/Grixis lists going forward are at least going to consider this.

Sphinx’s Revelation – $25

How can I call this card a buy at $25 when $30 is its historical high? Well, let’s compare it historically with Geist of Saint Traft. Much like Sphinx’s Revelation, it spent its first year in Standard jumping between $15 and $30 before sitting at $20 all summer long. The following year, it rarely dropped below $30 and even spent some time at $40.

While I wouldn’t speculate on this card at $25, I would be more than happy to trade for a bunch of copies at retail and hope to make a nice profit this winter. I’d certainly be happy to trade any copies of the new Garruk and Chandra for these straight up, though I suspect you’ll find that a difficult deal to actually pull off.

Hallowed Fountain, Overgrown Tomb, Breeding Pool, Watery Grave – $10, Blood Crypt – $8, Steam Vents – $7

These are the six shocklands currently retailing for $10 or less. The other four are currently selling between $12-$15, which is still fine but not worthy of mention here. Historically, the blue shocks have been the most expensive—Hallowed Fountain and Breeding Pool led the way for years and years. This time around, though, all four of the blue ones are on the low end. They’re currently being outpaced by the aggro lands: Temple Garden, Sacred Foundry, Stomping Grounds, and Godless Shrine.

This makes some sense when you look at the current mana-fixing situation in Standard. The two-life drawback is obviously less of a concern to aggressive decks, so when there are a bunch of good lands to choose from, these colors will gravitate more toward the shocks. Of course, we are about to lose the "buddy" lands, and we don’t yet know what awaits us in Theros. Come fall, I expect these shocks to be the best fixing in town for everyone. When that happens, expect some of these "lesser" shocks to experience a major resurgence. I’m calling $15-$25 for these across the board.

If you like playing Constructed Magic, get your set of 40 right now. If you like speculating on Magic, trade for as many of these as you can. I’ve even started buying some at retail myself just because I’m that certain I’ll make money on the deal come September. This is as close to a slam dunk as it comes.

Blood Baron of Vizkopa – $8

Fact: Dragon’s Maze was an unpopular set.

Fact: Blood Baron of Vizkopa has a price memory of $15.

Fact: This card’s biggest enemy is Thragtusk.

Fact: Thragtusk’s days are numbered.

Casual appeal alone should keep this card over $6, so you don’t have much to lose buying a couple copies at $8 if you think you might need them.

Obzedat, Ghost Council – $10

I’ve been wrong about this card since the beginning. It is certainly as powerful as I had suspected, but I thought that deckbuilders would be able to overcome its prohibitive mana cost and make it into a force in Standard. So far, it has had a marginal effect on the format.

Again, Thragtusk’s disappearance is going to absolutely blow Standard apart. I think people are going to want to have access to Blood Baron, and if you’re going to be running that card you might want to think about running this guy as well. I’m not fully sold—it is still very hard to cast—but I’m monitoring this one closely.

Assemble the Legion – $2

This is mostly a sideboard card in Standard, and you generally see it show up as a trump in the control versus control matchup. If you drop this, your opponent doesn’t kill it, and you can manage not to die for a couple of turns, you will win the game. That’s not awful for a five-drop.

If that were the end of it, I could see the card settling in between $2-$3 for the next year. The real upside here is in casual play, where this card is an absolute all-star. With the Commander circuit soaking these up, any marginal Standard play over the next year should lead to a solid spike at $5 or so. It’s not a great spec buy at $2, but it’s a good trade target.

Duskmantle Seer & Prime Speaker Zegana – $3.50

I’m running out of time to be right about Duskmantle Seer, but I still haven’t given up. I’m certainly not buying or trading for any more of these, but if you don’t have a set yet, it might be worth trading for one as a hedge. I really do think that this would be an unreal card in the right environment.

Prime Speaker Zegana sees about 300 times as much play as Duskmantle Seer, but that hasn’t helped her price all that much. With Restoration Angel and Thragtusk set to rotate, I feel like Prime Speaker Bant’s days are numbered, but this is still a very powerful card that sees play in competitive and casual circles. $3.50 is just too low.

Griselbrand – $12

Yeah, I know, it’s about to rotate, and it’s banned in Commander. That’s why Avacyn, Angel of Hope costs $8 more. Even still, Griselbrand is one of those off-the-charts Eternal finishers that is going to be $25 in a year or so and you’ll sort of numbly nod and wish you had bought more. Emrakul is banned in Commander too, and even the promo version of that card will set you back $30 these days.

Detention Sphere – $3

Oblivion Ring is gone, and I really don’t think Banisher Priest is the replacement that you want. Both this and Supreme Verdict have seen a ton of play all year, but that card is up to $6 while this one has mostly lagged behind. It has limited upside being a gold rare from a popular set, but I can certainly see this one doubling up at some point if U/W is still good next season. Spoiler alert: it almost always is.

The San Diego Comic-Con Exclusive Blacked-Out Planeswalkers – $250

These aren’t listed on StarCityGames yet and the price is still volatile, but I was able to buy two sets for myself at $250 each late last week, so that’s what I’m setting the value at for now.

Much like Modern Masters boxes, I absolutely love these as long-term pickups. According to reports from San Diego, these are only being sold at the Hasbro booth, which means lining up with all of the Bronies and Transformers fans and everyone else interested in the other Hasbro products. Tickets to purchase the planeswalkers were being handed out at 6:30 AM, but you had to get in line well before that to have a shot at getting one. Wizards has said that there will be a very limited number of extras going on sale on their website after the con, but I think this is a red herring. By the time you hear about them going on sale, they’ll probably already be gone. Unless I’m wildly off base, don’t even factor these copies into consideration.

$250 is a lot, of course, especially for a set of cards that is still in print and shouldn’t even be all that hard to get in a few months. I don’t think any one of the five planeswalkers is going to do much in Constructed—Chandra’s the best of them and is probably not going to light the world on fire or anything. (Well, technically she will, but that’s not the point.) Even still, I absolutely love this set as a long-term speculative purchase. For one, because these cards aren’t actually exclusive to the con, Wizards is under no obligation to ever increase the print run. If you just want a Chandra, Pyromaster for your deck, there are loads of easier ways to get them. That means that these will almost assuredly always stay scarce.

Second, the design is unique in Magic history. The black on black is absolutely striking, and the causal community is in love with the look of these. People who love promos, planeswalkers, or even just amazing cool things are going to go nuts over these cards. Oh, and they’re foil—did you know that? No one did until the first day of Comic-Con when someone opened their box and posted pictures online. That makes them even more desirable to their target audience.

In many ways, this reminds me of another alternate-art planeswalker. This one also had new art, a very limited release, and wasn’t a card that was particularly overpowered in competitive circles.

Do you know how much this guy retails for now? $200.

What’s the ceiling on these? In a year, I think there’s a reasonable shot that the box doubles in price to $500. Over time, if no more black-on-black exclusive planeswalker sets come out, these could hit $1,000. If this becomes a yearly thing at Comic Con, though, expect the price to stabilize more in the $350-$400 range long term. Regardless, getting in at $250 is a low-risk albeit expensive spec opportunity.

M14 Watch

Obviously, last weekend’s tournament results might render most of what I’m saying here moot. I’m writing this on Thursday afternoon, so if there have been any competitive breakouts over the past few days, I’m unaware of them. On the plus side, the weather’s pretty good back here in the past. At least it is inside my climate-controlled office.

Early Risers

Archangel of Thune – When I wrote my set review and called this a soft buy/hold, it was preselling for $20. One massive jump later finds this card retailing at $40. At twice the price, I really dislike this card and need to see it put up massive results before I climb back on the bandwagon. In the meantime, sell.

Xathrid Necromancer – This one is still $6 for now, but I don’t know how long that will last. They’re becoming impossible to find anywhere for less than that, and I expect SCG will raise the price again soon. If it shows up in an engine deck this weekend, it’ll jump to $10. You’ve been warned.

Imposing Sovereign – This card is the real deal. It’s already gone from $3 to $4, and I wouldn’t be shocked if it settles in the $6 range.

Burning EarthLuis Scott-Vargas just rated this as a 3.0 in his set review, and the price has doubled almost everywhere. Your time to get in is shrinking.

Ogre Battledriver – Everyone’s favorite trendy spec is already up to $3. It could peak at $5-$7 if it’s actually the Hellrider replacement of choice, but I still think $2-$4 is more likely.

Early Fallers

Savage Summoning – This card is already falling off, and I still can’t find a single person who endorses it. Get out while you can.

Witchstalker – Demand for this has fallen off a cliff, and I expect the price will start to drop as well.

That’s it, folks. See you n—

Go home, Golgothian Sylex, you’re drunk. You don’t get to be in a Magic finance column. Anyw—

Alright, fine, I’ll bite. See, there was one part of the M14 rules changes that wasn’t well publicized because it has very little impact on most people’s lives. Three cards—Golgothian Sylex, City in a Bottle, and Apocalypse Chime—have been subtly erratad. Instead of only affecting cards that were actually printed in the expansion they hose, they now destroy all cards that were originally printed in that expansion.

Does that make sense? Not really? Well, think about it like this. Golgothian Sylex now destroys all Mishra’s Factorys, Strip Mines, and Urzatron lands. Even ones that were printed in later expansions.

Does this actually matter? Probably not in tournaments, no. If Golgothian Sylex were Modern legal, it would immediately become a sick sideboard card, but this is pretty much irrelevant in Legacy. I guess this could be a cute kitchen table card, but most casual players hate things like this. If this card goes up in value, it will simply be one of those spec bubbles that the day traders like to get in and out of fast. Everyone else can feel free to ignore this card just like you’ve done for the past twenty years.

Until next week –

– Chas Andres