If you follow Modern at all, you probably have an innate understanding of which Modern Horizons staples have been climbing in price recently. For example, you don’t need me to tell you that Wrenn and Six is good in Jund, Force of Negation is good in Azorius Control, and Plague Engineer is good both in and against Humans.
But did you know that foil copies of Arcum’s Astrolabe out-gained every other card in Modern Horizons last week? It’s true. The card was $5 back in late June, $9 last weekend, and $25+ now. That’s very high for a common, and it isn’t Modern demand causing the spike, though the fact that Arcum’s Astrolabe is played in Grixis Urza didn’t hurt.
No – the card spiked because of a different format: Pauper.
With all of the Magic news that’s happened over the past month, WotC’s announcement that Pauper will be officially supported in the tabletop world has flown under the radar. I get it – compared to Modern Horizons and War of the Spark, Pauper doesn’t seem like that big a deal, and you could already sort of play it in paper form already. I even wrote an article about the format a year and a half ago, when folks started running Pauper side events at select Grand Prix.
But despite being a popular MTGO format, tabletop Pauper didn’t take off the way I had hoped. Part of the problem was confusion over which cards were eligible, with some cards only being printed at common in MTGO-exclusive sets falling into a weird gray area in tabletop Pauper and vice-versa. Another issue was a lack of clear support from WOTC. Pauper was missing from Wizards Event Reporter, which made Pauper events difficult to run.
This latest announcement from WotC fixes both issues. Not only does Pauper have the official green light for tabletop sanctioning, but the issue of paper versus digital legality has been cleared up in the best possible way: all cards ever issued at common in either a paper or a digital set becoming eligible for play in Pauper.
Unlike with Frontier, Tiny Leaders, Brawl, or any of the other new formats that we’ve talked about lately, I don’t expect there to be a crazy rush of speculators buying into Pauper in an attempt to strike it rich. For one thing, speculating on a commons-only format is hard. The vast majority of staples are designed to remain absurdly cheap, no matter what, which is kind of the whole point of Pauper. For another, it’s been about a month since the Pauper announcement and there hasn’t been much financial movement yet.
That said, there’s a reason why I’m writing this article today. Unlike those flash-in-the-pan formats, Pauper has excited as a vibrant eternal format on MTGO for nearly a decade. It has thousands of advocates and active players, an established metagame, and a compelling reason to exist. Heck, it’s probably the fifth-most-played Constructed Magic format already, clocking in after Modern, Standard, Commander, and Legacy. It’ll probably start giving Legacy a run for its money before long, too.
This level of popularity and continuity matters quite a bit. It ensures that the best Pauper cards are only going to grow in demand as the format slowly catches on in the tabletop world. These staples might not pay off next week, or even next month, but savvy players and speculators know that collection equity often compounds based on figuring out which cards are the best long-term holds. Pauper may not be the next Magic gold rush, but I firmly believe that that format has only just begun to start growing.
And that means opportunity.
How Can We Speculate on an All-Commons Format?
Kor Skyfisher is the most-played creature in all of Pauper right now, yet you can buy roughly as many copies as you’d like here on Star City Games for $0.29 each. I suppose there might be some money to be made by buying hundreds of copies of the card and either hoping to trigger a spike or just waiting around for the buylist price to eventually rise above the thirty-cent mark, but I don’t recommend it. That sounds like a lot of work to make $5 or $10.
The appeal of Pauper as a format is that it’s a way to play eternal Magic without having to worry much about the financial side of the game. Instead of having to shell out $440 for a playset of Scalding Tarns, you can pick up four copies of Ash Barrens for about $14. Most of the other lands in the format are available for less than a buck, too.
To that end, there’s very little that you or I or anyone else in the Magic Finance can do to make Pauper meaningfully less accessible. There are simply too many copies of Kor Skyfisher or Lightning Bolt or Electrickery out there for even an entire cabal of Magic Finance speculators to cause more than ripple in the economy. The most expensive Pauper decks in the format are about $100 right now, and I don’t think that price point is going to change all that much over the next several years.
What this means for us is that we have to be absolutely surgical in determining which cards we invest in. The vast majority of Pauper staples are never going to be worth more than a few cents no matter what, so we have to be smart about where we put our money. There are some good Pauper specs out there, and they generally fall into one of three categories:
1. Format staples have only been printed once or twice, ideally a long time ago. These are what I call “choke point” cards, because they represent the hardest cards to acquire for a given deck.
For example, if you’re building Pauper Elves, you’re going to need four copies of both Quirion Ranger and Timberwatch Elf. One of these cards is a lot scarcer than the other, though. Quirion Ranger has only been printed once, and it was all the way back in Visions, while Timberwatch Elf has been printed in Commander 2014, Duel Decks: Elves vs. Goblins, Legions, and Eternal Masters. Thus, Quirion Ranger is more likely to represent the choke point for this deck.
The complication here is that a lot of the choke point cards in Pauper see play in other formats already. For example, the most expensive card in Pauper Tron is Expedition Map, which is pricey thanks to Modern Tron decks. Even if Pauper takes off, Modern demand is still going to be the main driver of Expedition Map’s price tag. That doesn’t mean that these cards are worth ignoring, but I’m not going to focus on them in an article about Pauper speculation.
2. Rare and unique foils. This is the biggest money-making opportunity as tabletop Pauper really starts to catch on. Even though Pauper is popular in large part because of how affordable it is to play, there are still a lot of folks who want to personalize their decks by adding in a little bit of bling. And just like in Modern and Legacy, the rarest Pauper foils are going to explode in price as players look to completely foil out their decks or add a bit of pizazz to their otherwise “cheap” eternal deck.
Foil copies of choke point cards are a great place to start, but the bench of potential foil spec targets is a little bit deeper here due to quirks in foil availability. For example, it’s hard to call Pyroblast a true choke point card since it was printed in 5th Edition, Ice Age, and Eternal Masters, but this card only has one foil printing and it’s wildly underpriced right now at $15. At some point, foil copies of Pyroblast from Eternal Masters are going to be worth $50+ and you’ll wish you had bought in at a fraction of that cost.
3. Impactful cards that are new to Pauper. These don’t show up that often since most commons from new sets aren’t likely to make an impact – and even if they do, they aren’t likely to be expensive. A card like Arcum’s Astrolabe will make its presence felt from time to time, though, and it’s well worth taking a look at foil copies of cards like that.
Also, the new unified Pauper rules have given format legality to some cards that were printed at common in paper but not on MTGO. These cards were ineligible to be played in Pauper until about three weeks ago. We haven’t seen too many of them showing up on the Pauper leaderboards yet, but it’s still possible that some of them are flying under the radar and will end up being excellent specs. This is a one-time thing, but it’s well worth our time to take a look at these cards right now.
Buying Opportunities in the Current Pauper Metagame
It’s important to mention up front that the Pauper metagame is currently in a state of flux. Not only did WotC ban Hymn to Tourach, Sinkhole, and High Tide last month, Arcum’s Astrolabe has proven to be one of the biggest new additions to the format ever. In fact, Arcum’s Astrolabe is currently the #1 most-played card in all of Pauper according to the MTG Goldfish staples list.
When I analyzed Pauper a year and a half ago, the format looked a tad different. Decks like Inside Out, Heroic, Mono-Black Control, and Izzet Blitz have either been knocked out of the format entirely due to bannings or have been relegated to second- or third-tier options due to shifts in the metagame.
On the other hand, Pauper is still an eternal format like Legacy or Modern, which means that the format’s best decks and best cards will often find a way to shine through no matter what. Most of the decks that I looked at last year – Burn, Boros, Elves, Delver, Stompy, and Tron – are still comfortably situated in Pauper’s top tier. And without a new spate of bannings or any powerful Modern Horizons-esque sets slated to arrive at any point soon, the current Pauper metagame could be more stable than it might seem at first glance.
Let’s take a look at the current cream of the Pauper crop and see if we can identify the best buying opportunities in the format right now.
Interesting Choke Point Cards
Arcum’s Astrolabe – $0.39
I’ve talked about Arcum’s Astrolabe twice so far in this piece, and I’m going to give it a third plug here. Since Modern Horizons is a low-print-run set with a premium price tag, it’s likely that even the nonfoil copies of this card are going to spike at some point due to how important it is to almost every deck in the format right now. If you plan to play any Pauper at any point, get yourself a set of Astrolabes ASAP. This is a solid long-term spec target at current retail.
Skred – $4
If Skred wasn’t reprinted in Modern Horizons with all those other snow cards, I’m not sure if it’ll ever be back. It’s possible that we’ll get a red “snow matters” Commander deck, but Skred is still one of the safer bets on this list if you’re looking to dodge potential reprint risk.
Skred is a minor player in Modern, but it shows up absolutely all over the place in Pauper and it has been on the rise over the past couple of months. This is one of those cards that will be $10+ at some point if tabletop Pauper catches on in the way that I think it will, with foils reaching some crazy high figure. People just did not open packs of Coldsnap, making this a lower-supply card than almost everything else on this list. Get your set ASAP.
Moment’s Peace – $2
Moment’s Peace was only been printed once, way back in Odyssey, and I don’t think WotC wants to risk printing a card like this again in Standard-legal set – not after a full year of Nexus of Fate shenanigans. I could see Moment’s Peace coming back in a Commander set at some point, but this is still one of the safer buys at current retail. It doesn’t see a ton of play in Pauper, but it sees enough play that I’m bullish about its financial future.
Prismatic Strands – $2.50
Prismatic Strands is Moment’s Peace’s cousin, another flashback card from Odyssey block (Judgment this time) that hasn’t been reprinted at any point over the past seventeen years. I can’t imagine WotC wanting this one back in Standard, either, so it’s also fairly safe from suffering a major reprint.
I do want to note here that Moment’s Peace and Prismatic Strands were two cards that I highlighted in my Pauper article last year, and neither card has moved very much in price since then. Moment’s Peace dropped $1 from $3 to $2, while Prismatic Strands gained $1 from $1.50 to $2.50. This may dissuade some of you from going too deep into Pauper, but it should also serve as a good reminder that most of these cards are incredibly safe bets as long as you don’t get blown out by a reprint. Even these “failed” specs didn’t drop in price, and a year later I still feel good about them going forward. Only time will tell, but now that WotC is fully embracing tabletop Pauper, I feel like their time will come.
Ash Barrens – $3.50
Ash Barrens was as high as $10 last year before it was reprinted in Masters 25 and the price tanked. That said, this card is oozing with potential. It still has just two paper printings: one in an unpopular Masters set (at uncommon, not common), and one in Commander 2016. That’s not exactly a recipe for a ton of available supply.
Meanwhile, Ash Barrens sees play in roughly half of Pauper’s top tier of decks. Seriously, this card is amazing in the format, and with very few good nonbasic lands to choose from, Ash Barrens is one of the most important cards in all of Pauper. Ash Barrens is also currently sold out on Star City Games, and I can’t find too many copies elsewhere. I wouldn’t be shocked if Ash Barrens ends the year in the $7-$8 range, and there’s $10-$15 potential depending on when it is next reprinted.
Quirion Ranger – $4
We talked about Quirion Ranger a little bit earlier, and it’s the textbook example of a choke point card. Not only is Quirion Ranger essential in Pauper Elves, but it’s basically the only “expensive” card in Mono-Green Aggro as well. This is going to be one of the first cards to spike if there’s ever a bull market in Pauper, and it’s a solid long-term hold regardless. Unless this card is reprinted, it’ll remain one of the most sought-after cards in the whole format.
Ephemerate – $0.50
Ephemerate is no Arcum’s Astrolabe, but it still sees quite a bit of play in Pauper and its foil price tag hasn’t even begun to catch up with demand. It’s sold out at $0.50 on Star City Games right now, and even though I expect it to be re-stocked at a higher price, I’m still in as long as it’s less than $3-$4. It’s a solid buy at that price, and it’s a no-doubter at half a dollar. Get your copies ASAP.
Pyroblast – $15
I mentioned Pyroblast back in the intro, but I want to reiterate that this card is majorly underpriced at $15. There’s only one foil version of Pyroblast out there, and I can see its price chart slowly start ticking back up. Get these while you can, because the upside is quite high.
Ash Barrens – $9
It shouldn’t come as much of a shock that most of the choke point cards we talked about in the last section are worth talking about here as well. Arcum’s Astrolabe and Skred already have expensive foils, and Quirion Ranger has an early FNM foil that goes for a whopping $180.
Ash Barrens is just $9, though, which is cheaper than the nonfoil copies of this format staple before the Masters 25 reprint. There are oodles of upside here, and this foil is almost assuredly going to hit $20-$30 at some point. Even if Pauper doesn’t pan out, you’re backstopped by Commander demand here, so there’s no excuse not to at least trade for these at current retail.
Rancor (Urza’s Legacy) – $20
You can get foil copies of Rancor from Eternal Masters for a far more reasonable $4, but I don’t see much potential movement there. Old-border foils can hold some pretty serious premiums, though, and this is one of the coolest. Urza’s Legacy was the first-ever set to have foils, and it has some of the scarcest foils in the game. $20 might seem like a pretty stiff price to pay for a foil that is easily available in several other forms, but this is the exact sort of card that can double in price without much of an increase in play.
Needle Drop – $10
Needle Drop only has a single printing, way back in Lorwyn, and people love foiling out their burn decks no matter the format. $10 is already kind of expensive for a common that really only sees play in Pauper, but that goes to show you just how much of an effect this format has already had on certain foil prices. This isn’t one of my favorite specs on this list, but I wanted to include it since it’s a choke point card that we haven’t talked about yet and the foils really do look good.
Fireblast (FNM) – $40
The foil FNM version of Fireblast would be a $100+ card already if there wasn’t a cheaper foil available, but just like with Rancor, old-border foil cards are among the coolest and rarest things to own in the game. This particular promo has been as high as $80-$100 in the past, and I’ve seen the price start to move in that direction again over the past few weeks thanks to the Pauper announcement. You can’t go wrong snagging this one at current retail.
Battle Screech (Judgment) – $16
Battle Screech foils were heading toward $30 before the card was reprinted in Modern Horizons, and the reprint is only going to temporarily halt this Pauper staple’s march up the charts. The reprint is certainly going to keep the nonfoil price tag down, but like I’ve said a few times now, old-border foils don’t play by those rules. You’ve got a nice little window to find these now, and I wouldn’t wait too long if I wanted a personal set.
Chainer’s Edict (Ultimate Masters) – $3
Chainer’s Edict has been reprinted a couple of times before, and every time it immediately starts to climb in price again thanks to Pauper demand. Seriously – this card is as beloved a format staple as it gets in Pauper. Heck, nonfoil copies of Chainer’s Edict almost hit $20 before the Ultimate Masters reprint, and now foils are available for just $3? That’s wild.
Much like with Battle Screech, this is a nice window to pick up old-bordered foils at a discount, but I actually like snagging the newer foils here because the price is just so low. It’s not like Ultimate Masters was a heavily printed set, ether. This might be the biggest no-brainer buy in this entire article, and I’m probably going to snag a bunch right after I turn this article in.
Potentially Lucrative Additions to the Format
Mystic Remora – $5
I can’t even fathom how many of these I’ve bulked away in my life, tucked away in a sea of unplayable Ice Age commons. But Mystic Remora was essentially worthless until July of 2017, when it spiked from bulk to about $3. That may have just been the beginning, though, as Mystic Remora jumped in price again earlier this month right after the Pauper announcement. People are really excited to play this card in Pauper, and I can’t blame them.
It’s too early to say whether Mystic Remora is the real deal in Pauper, but I have started to see it show up in some Jeskai Midrange lists and I’m crossing my fingers that this is just the start. I’d like Mystic Remora more as a spec if it hadn’t already spiked, but it’ll end up closer to $10 before long if it actually ends up making an impact.
Ashnod’s Altar – $20
The Chronicles version of Ashnod’s Altar is the cheapest available copy of this card, clocking in at just $6. That’s a boring spec, though, and it’s the Antiquities version that really gets me excited. There’s a lot of Chronicles out there still, remember, but there’s almost no Antiquities available anywhere, for any price. If Ashnod’s Altar does become a Pauper staple, it could hit $50 easily.
Ashes to Ashes – $1.25
The fact that Ashes to Ashes was printed in 4th Edition and 5th Edition as well as The Dark will probably keep this card from rising in price too much, but the black-bordered version is quite cool. And as with Ashnod’s Altar (though to a lesser extent), cards from ancient sets like The Dark are incredibly scarce. My guess is that Ashes to Ashes ends up in the $5-$6 range short-term, with potential for more over the long haul.
Gaea’s Touch – $3
Here’s another potential inclusion from The Dark – and this time, there’s no alternative printing available. Yes, please! My only worry here is that there are a couple of existing Mono-Green decks in Pauper, and I can’t imagine either of them wanting to run Gaea’s Touch. Those are aggro decks, and this is a ramp card.
That said, Gaea’s Touch is still a really interesting spec. It’s power level in Pauper is quite high, and the available supply is very low. Much like with Mystic Remora, Gaea’s Touch has already roughly doubled thanks to excitement about its potential in Pauper – and if it does take off, we’re looking at a $7-$8 card at least.
Breath of Life – $0.50
Breath of Life has actually been printed four times, but they’re all low-supply sets: 7th Edition, Portal, Portal: Second Age, and Starter 1999. That’s a pretty nice array of sets that can contain some stupidly expensive cards! Admittedly I haven’t seen much buzz about Breath of Life in Pauper yet, but the card is absolutely on point in terms of power level and there’s no way this is reprintable based on the current Magic color pie. 7th Edition foils are the best play here, as foils from that set can spike from $10 to $60 in the blink of an eye.
False Defeat – $7
False Defeat is the Portal: Three Kingdoms version of Breath of Life. While it’s unlikely that any deck needs to run more than four of this effect, this is the scarcest card we’ve talked about today and even the hint of movement could have it skyrocketing to some absurdly high price tag. $7 is a bargain for a Portal: Three Kingdoms card with even a whisper of tournament relevance and I’d pick up any of these that I saw for this price right now.
This Week’s Trends
The Core Set 2020 Standard market didn’t move much this week despite Core Set 2020 having had a pretty major impact on the metagame. Esper Midrange has morphed into Esper Hero, while relatively new decks like Orzhov Vampires, Jund Dinosaurs, and Simic Flash have surged in popularity. Boros Feather has also transformed from a cute fringe player into a top-tier strategy, which makes me very happy.
The only thing keeping Core Set 2020 Standard prices from going nuts right now is the fact that we’re about three months away from set rotation. Throne of Eldraine releases on October 4th, which means that previews will likely begin on September 16th. That’s nine weeks from now, and those nine weeks are the dog days of the Magic calendar each and every year. So even though Orzhov Vampires looks amazing right now, it’s losing more than half of its staples in late September when Ixalan block rotates out of Standard. Because of that, Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord is still just $18. If this deck still had a year of Standard legality left, we’d be looking at a $40+ card right now.
I actually do think Sorin will slowly start to climb in price over the next couple of weeks, though the impending rotation and Magic’s yearly summer slump should temper your expectations. A few other cards from Core Set 2020 appear to be on upward trajectories, too. Nightpack Ambusher more than doubled in price last week thanks to the rise of Simic Flash, while Yarok, the Desecrated has proven its worth in Commander as well as a few of the Dreadhorde and five-color decks in Standard.
Otherwise, Standard has been in a bear market. Core Set 2020 cards that haven’t taken off yet like Chandra, Awakened Inferno; Lotus Field; and Vivien, Arkbow Ranger are all still shedding value. Soon-to-be-rotating staples like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria; Karn, Scion of Urza; and Mox Amber are starting their long sag toward September. These prices are likely to continue dropping as July turns into August, so make your purchasing decisions accordingly.
I’ll reiterate this half-a-dozen times over the next few months, but just as a reminder, mid-to-late August is generally the best time of year to buy Magic cards. It’s when rotating Modern staples tend to bottom out, next year’s Standard staples are at their seasonal lows, and eternal cards in general are fairly cheap to acquire. As a general rule, I’d be looking to sell out of my rotating Standard staples ASAP and hold the cash aside for any speculation opportunities that come my way over the next couple of months. Don’t worry – once the market approaches its summer nadir, I’ll write a couple of articles about what specific cards you should be picking up.
One set of cards I’ll be looking to buy up over the next few weeks: the Horizon lands, as well as all the other cards in Modern Horizons that are starting to drop in price again. This set’s price movement to date has been pretty wild, right? First, Modern Horizons cards were all too cheap. Then they exploded in price and a bunch more people opened boxes. Now, pretty much everything other than Wrenn and Six has slowly begun to drop in price. There’s going to be a terrific window to buy all this stuff, especially these lands, at some point over the next four to six weeks. Don’t miss it.
Speaking of Modern, the Modern cards that spiked the most this week were Bitterblossom and Secluded Glen, largely on the back of the Throne of Eldraine key art that was leaked just prior to the set’s announcement at Comic-Con. Since then, we’ve learned that Throne of Eldraine will be more of a Camelot-meets-Grimm’s Fairy Tales set and less “all Faeries all the time” expansion, which means that these two cards will probably start to tick back down again. Secluded Glen will probably stay above $5 since Throne of Eldraine will certainly have some Faeries, but don’t expect it to pull an Auntie’s Hovel and end up in the $18-$25 range.
Speaking of the Eldraine announcement, Mark Rosewater spent a lot of time talking about the new styles of booster packs that will be coming to Magic as of this fall. I’m sure I’ll be spending a lot of time covering this topic in the future, but for now the key thing to know is that there will be brand new “Collector Boosters” in the $20-$25 range that will feature a bunch of brand-new promos. We’re getting borderless planeswalkers, extended-art staples, and cards with all-new Showcase Frames (read: a Masterpiece-style treatment that changes from set to set) that will be found exclusively in these expensive new booster packs.
Will these boosters be good buys? It’s too early to say. It’s hard for me to believe they’ll be bad buys, because rare cards with alternate art, extended borders, and wild new frames absolutely have an audience. $20-$25 is steep for a single pack, but the set EV will probably rise to meet that price point and these packs will essentially be an expensive lottery for whatever the best promos in the set end up being. It’s also quite likely that these new boosters will spell the end of the Mythic Editions, and I also wouldn’t be surprised if older cards are eventually mixed in again, Masterpiece-style. Those are just conjectures for now, though.
At any rate, we’ll have a lot to discuss once these Collector Booster promos go on pre-sale and we can get a sense of their price points. For now, you can safely ignore these changes if you’re not into foils and promos. If this is your jam, however, you can start to get hyped. I certainly can’t wait to see them.