Fae, Zoo, & Modern Finance

In this week’s article, Chas examines the changes made to the Modern banned list last week and talks about the impact each is having on Magic’s fastest-growing format.

In case you’ve been living in a cave on Mars for the past week, big changes have come to Modern. Deathrite Shaman has been banned. Bitterblossom and Wild Nacatl have been unbanned.

This is huge. Modern is about to look a whole lot different, and card prices have been going crazy in anticipation. This week I’m going to examine each of these cards and the impacts that their new legality is having on Magic’s fastest-growing format.


For most of 2013, Bitterblossom was a $20 card. The price was kept this high because of Commander, Cube, and a small amount of Legacy demand. There has always been an undercurrent of belief that Bitterblossom might eventually be unbanned in Modern, and some people were buying in based on that hope as well.

Bitterblossom jumped to $30 in early January based on an increasing hope that the card would finally come off the Modern banned list. Demand was fairly heavy even before the news broke, and by 11:50 PM that night very few copies were available at any price.

I told people that buying Bitterblossom at $30 was foolish as long as it was banned, and I stand by that assessment. Had the card not been unbanned—a very realistic proposition considering the card has stayed banned for years—the price would have immediately fallen back to $20 and copies would not have been easy to unload until the next time that B&R furor took over. The fact that many speculators were rewarded for making a risky and expensive decision may embolden them in the future, but I subscribe to a more process-oriented philosophy. It was the right call based on the information we had.

Once Bitterblossom came off the banned list, I predicted an immediate spike to $75 before a drop-off into the $50-$60 range. Based on current eBay sales figures, this prediction was accurate; the cheapest NM copy I can find right now is $55. Even though StarCityGames.com is sold out of Bitterblossom at $50, I’d expect a restock at $80 or so.

Can this price hold? Absolutely, but it will have to put up big results. This would put Bitterblossom in a bracket of the top five or six Modern cards, just above Vendilion Clique and roughly equal to Misty Rainforest and Scalding Tarn. Bitterblossom would have to be a flagship in a tier 1 deck (Fae) and at least a role player in another popular build (Jund, B/W Tokens, or Mono-Black Devotion would fit the bill). If Fae is a tier 2 deck or Bitterblossom doesn’t show up anywhere else, the price could tumble to $35-$40 on eBay and $50 retail. Based on its overall power level and scarcity, (Morningtide is an old and unpopular small set), I cannot see the card dropping lower than that without a reprint regardless of how much it shows up on tournament tables.

One wild card in all of this is the Modern Event Deck that will go on sale this spring. Wizards of the Coast could choose to go with nearly anything, though based on past experience I expect it will be a fairly linear build. Right now I think Faeries is the heavy favorite. The decision to unban Bitterblossom has probably been in the works for a long time, and I doubt Wizards wants to step too much on people who have spent months painstakingly building an expensive tier 1 deck. I suspect that is one reason why a role player (Deathrite Shaman) was taken away from Jund instead of a cornerstone.

Fae is the sort of deck that plays well right out of the box. Many of the cards haven’t been printed in recent sets or Modern Masters either. If they do go in this direction, I’d expect a box that contains the full complement of Bitterblossoms while missing some other key card that helped sell Modern Masters, probably Vendilion Clique. That way they don’t undermine demand too much for Modern Masters II.

Regardless of whether a Faeries deck shows up in a box or not, people will be playing Bitterblossom and friends in Modern. Most of the pros are keeping their builds secret for now, so instead of showcasing a theoretical decklist I’ll cover the non Bitterblossom cards that might be run in Faeries going forward:

Mistbind Clique – This card rose from $3 to $5 before the unbanning based on speculation alone. After the announcement it jumped to $20 before dropping back toward the $13-$15 range. $15 retail seems about right, as it will almost certainly be at least a three-of in every good Fae deck.

Scion of Oona – Scion was recently reprinted in Modern Masters, giving this spec limited upside. It’s up to $6 retail even though there’s no guarantee it will be run in whatever Fae deck ends up dominating, many of which don’t even need the Scion. Actual demand is much softer here, so I’m staying out.

Snapcaster Mage – This card is a huge boon for Faeries, but it hasn’t jumped much yet. It was on a slow and steady upswing even before the announcement, though, so this is a good time to buy in.

Spellstutter Sprite – This innocuous common is the glue that holds the Faerie deck together. The Modern Masters foil only went from $1.99 to $2.99 on SCG this week, and it will trade very easily on the tournament floor. I picked up a bunch at retail, and I expect the price will continue to rise.

Vendilion Clique – The other Faeries spiked, but Vendilion Clique hasn’t moved much at all since the announcement. People who like to spec don’t want to drop $50 each on cards, and staples that are already in good decks tend to be ignored. If Clique was a $50 retail card before Bitterblossom was legal, though, how much better is it now? This card will likely start to spike after the first Fae deck wins a tournament and serious players start moving toward the strategy.

Cryptic Command – You can’t find these for less than $30 anymore despite a Modern Masters printing at rare. That influx of copies limits the upside a bit, but this card is crucial to the deck. Expect these to keep slowly rising as Modern season approaches.

Creeping Tar Pit – All the Worldwake man lands have been climbing upward, and this unbanning forced the issue a little on Tar Pit. You can still find these in the $5-$7 range, but it could stabilize closer to $10-$12. Even if Faeries decides not to run this, the underlying metrics are good for it to maintain value thanks to its many other uses.

Secluded Glen – This went from $2 to $10, which seems silly on the surface of it. All the Faeries decks are going to want four of them no matter what though. The price isn’t going to go below $6-$8 unless the deck bombs, so don’t expect the price to crash anytime soon.

River of Tears – This card also jumped from $2 to $10, but I think this spike is purely hype based. Availability issues are real with River of Tears—it’s a Future Sight rare after all—but the land isn’t actually that good. It may stay at $4 or $5 due to scarcity alone, but I doubt it’ll be a staple in Fae from here on out.

Sunken Ruins – This was played in Faeries last time around, but that was in a Standard environment with no fetches or shocks. I’m unconvinced this will actually see much play in the new Modern deck.

Damnation – This is a solid sideboard card, perhaps as a one-of or two-of. These are selling for $35-$40 now, mostly thanks to casual players and Mono-Black Devotion devotees. Demand is real, so the price increase is as well.

Of course, Bitterblossom also has applications outside of Faeries. If B/W Tokens starts seeing more play, here are some cards that might make a jump:

Windbrisk Heights – This is already up to $8 retail, but it would hit $15 or $20 if the deck takes off.

Auriok Champion – This is already a $15 card—when did all of these random creatures get so expensive?—and it would hit $25 without much trouble if B/W Tokens makes a big push.

Spectral Procession – This $2 uncommon has room to hit $6 or $7.

Hero of Bladehold – This is a dark horse pickup. It’s a small set mythic that you can still find around $5 if you look hard enough. It could hit $20 if the right B/W Tokens deck becomes popular. But it isn’t played in all variants of this deck, and Brimaz might get the nod over it decks that want this effect.

Sorin, Lord of Innistrad – The Duel Deck printing will prevent the price from becoming too robust, but the $5 it sells for now is the floor on this planeswalker. If it starts seeing significant Modern play, it will hit $15 or $20.

Deathrite Shaman

Good news, Jund fans! Your deck is not dead.

Bad news, everyone else! Jund is not dead.

I don’t yet know how much Jund will be forced to change, but it did lose one of its best cards last weekend. While I’ve seen some speculation that it will benefit from Bitterblossom itself, I doubt we’ll see too much Blossom-based Jund. Instead, I suspect maindeck Jund Charm will become a thing again along with a resurgence of interest in Kitchen Finks to help fight Zoo.

Both Jund and Pod will now rely much more on Finks incidentally, which might help cause a bit of a rebound in the price. It was a $15 card before Modern Masters was released, and it’s $4 now.

Jund may also decide to switch red for white and base the deck in green, white, and black instead of green, black, and red, as Travis Allen theorizes. With Bloodbraid Elf long gone and Liliana of the Veil much harder to cast on turn 2, basing the deck in green and black with a red splash may no longer be ideal. That would open up any amount of Restoration Angel / Path to Exile shenanigans as well as Voice of Resurgence, Loxodon Smiter, and Lingering Souls.

Deathrite Shaman is a much bigger blow to the possible ascendency of Mono-Black Devotion in Modern. That deck may benefit from Bitterblossom, though, so the jury is still very much out right now. I’m staying away until I get a better idea of how the format shakes out.

As for Deathrite Shaman himself, the banning has caused the price to dip, but only a little. His retail price is down to $12, and you can find copies in the $8 range if you look hard enough. I’m not buying in though—he’s still a Standard rare, and Return to Ravnica is going to rotate in the fall. Standard cards, especially rares, almost always drop at least a little in the summer. I predict there will be a chance to pick these up closer to $6, and that’s when I’m going to move in. Deathrite Shaman is still a real Legacy card, after all, and it has also become the biggest future contender for unbanning in Modern. The card is powerful, but it’s mostly fair and does a lot of work to help keep degenerate graveyard decks in check. At some point Wizards may want it back in the format.

In the meantime, though, the lack of Deathrite Shaman will affect the fortunes of many other cards.

Living End decks may have gotten better now that the #1 maindeck graveyard removal card is gone. After speaking with a few people who play this deck regularly, though, I’m not so sure. Scavenging Ooze is much better than Deathrite Shaman against Living End, and if that card sees an uptick in popularity as a Deathrite replacement, the deck will be a far worse metagame choice.

Additionally, many decks forwent dedicated graveyard removal in their sideboard, leaning hard on maindeck Shamans instead. Because Deathrite is pretty slow against Living End, it will be much harder for the deck to win if it has to deal with more dedicated hate going forward.

The biggest problem that Living End faces though is the rise of other Reanimator strategies in the post Deathrite Shaman era. The more decks interact with the graveyard, the more hate Living End will face, and the worse a metagame call the deck will be. Because of that, I don’t recommend buying in on Living End cards unless you want to play the deck yourself.

What other reanimation strategies might we see? Dredgevine is one of the leading candidates. Here are the key cards in that deck:

Vengevine – This monster has dominated both Standard and Legacy at different times, so the pedigree is there. It’s a mythic from Rise of the Eldrazi too, so the sky is the limit in terms of price. It’s up to $15 retail with no copies left under $10 anywhere, and I expect this card to make a major jump if the deck starts putting up results.

Bloodghast – This is another card that has done it in Eternal play before, giving it a shot at a major spike. It’s at $8 retail now, but it’s a four-of in this deck so it could hit $15 without too much trouble.

Gravecrawler – This guy is still just $4 because it recently rotated and is easy to find in binders. It could double in price if demand solidifies.

Lotleth Troll – This card is a nice long-term spec, but there are so many copies out there right now that I don’t think it would spike much even if the deck did very well.

This deck isn’t very fleshed out yet, and I’ve seen versions that run Tarmogoyf; Dark Confidant; Golgari Thug; Death’s Shadow; Varolz, the Scar-Striped; Lingering Souls; Life from the Loam; Grisly Salvage; Extractor Demon; Demigod of Revenge; Phantasmal Image; and more. It’s worth keeping an eye on all the green dredge-y spells in order to see what ends up working.

Other Life from the Loam strategies, including those with Borborygmos and Countryside Crusher, had been gaining popularity before Deathrite Shaman was printed. It’s possible that either or both of these cards could jump from bulk rare to format staple pretty quickly.

What about the more traditional Reanimator decks? To me, the best of them probably runs four copies each of Goryo’s Vengeance and Griselbrand, two cards that might make up the core of a new tier 1 deck.

If so, Goryo’s Vengeance should rise from $15 to $30, and Griselbrand could hit $50 or even $60. These prices may seem kind of silly now, but with the way Modern prices have been behaving, it wouldn’t even come close to shocking me. Things are kind of nuts right now.

All of this Reanimator speculation is rendered moot of course if Scavenging Ooze simply takes over 60% or 70% of the slots that Deathrite Shaman just vacated. That card shuts down graveyard strategies very efficiently and should start to see quite a bit more play, though as a two-drop that doesn’t make mana it is not nearly as versatile or efficient.

Wild Nacatl

This little kitty will change the face of Modern far more than the addition of Bitterblossom or the loss of Deathrite Shaman, though it won’t do as much financially. Zoo was a very popular deck before Wild Nacatl was banned, and it will continue to be incredibly popular today. While I suspect Faeries will be tier 1, I don’t actually know if it will—it has never been played in Modern after all. I can guarantee you that some form of Zoo will be at or near the top tables at almost every tournament going forward though.

For those of you who weren’t around last time Zoo was legal, it’s actually three or four different decks (at least) that all revolve around attacking for three on turn 2 in one manner or another. It’s similar to Delver of Secrets in that respect—there are many decks that use different cards to attain similar goals.

Nearly all Zoo decks run some number of Kird Apes and Wild Nacatls, relying on a combination of fetch lands and shock lands to pump them very quickly. Both of these cards are easy enough to get, though FNM Nacatls did spike a bit post-ban.

Goblin Guide, Loam Lion, Noble Hierarch, and Grim Lavamancer round out the usual one-drops depending on the build. Noble Hierarch spiked from $30 to $60 (!) this week, which is crazy, though as I said back in the summer it is one of the only cornerstone Modern staples from that era not to be reprinted in Modern Masters. It’s also an important Deathrite Shaman replacement in some Pod decks, so it’ll be doing work all over the format. As crazy as it is, the price is probably stuck over $50 until a reprint.

Loam Lion and Grim Lavamancer are both interesting spec targets though. The Lion is still just $1, and Grim Lavamancers can be easily found for $2-$3. I like Lavamancer more, mostly because it has uses in Jund going forward as well as a possible Deathrite replacement. Goblin Guide hasn’t spiked either, but at $10 retail there’s not much further it can go. $15 maybe?

Zoo is also known for its efficient spot removal suite: Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and Lightning Helix. Helix and Path were both just printed at uncommon in Modern Masters, so if they grow it won’t be by much. Zoo requires a bunch of very expensive fetch lands, so the deck has a fairly high point of entry already. Most of the lower-end cards probably won’t move too much.

Most of Zoo’s possible two- and three-drops don’t have room to grow for one reason or another. Qasali Pridemage is a common. Loxodon Smiter, Ghor-Clan Rampager, Voice of Resurgence, and Scavenging Ooze are in current sets. Knight of the Reliquary is the best bet to rebound; the card has been over $10 before, and the Modern Masters copy is back up to $8 after spending some time at $4. People seem tentative about it now, but I expect it’ll be played in most Zoo decks going forward.

Perhaps the most intriguing path Zoo could take going forward is toward blue. Adding Snapcaster Mage and Geist of Saint Traft is a valid option now, and inclusion in the deck could cause the price of both to rise. These are two cards that will almost certainly go up in price sooner or later, so they’re very low-risk adds to your collection.

Meanwhile, Threads of Disloyalty has spiked to $30 as one of the best answers to Zoo. This price seems kind of crazy to me, and I expect the card to fall back into the $10-$15 range sooner rather than later.

This Week’s Trends

  • I’ve hit on most of the Modern stuff going on in the body of the article, so this section is going to focus on trends in casual and Standard Magic.
  • Gamble spiked to $25 this week. It’s a solid tutor from a very old set so I’m not surprised, but it’s not really a must-have card in Commander so the $25 price should stay fairly soft. Still, you should buy these if you see them for $8-$10 at your local game sore.
  • I’ve seen Vexing Devil in a few Zoo lists. It’s possible it makes the cut, but I have a hard time seeing it being better than Goblin Guide or run in addition to Goblin Guide unless the deck gets very fast. It’s worth keeping an eye on just in case.
  • There is a new Mono-Black Event Deck. Desecration Demon, Pack Rat, Hero’s Downfall, Herald of Torment, and two copies of Xathrid Necromancer are the biggest inclusions. Expect a small price drop for each of those cards and a moderate one for Xathrid Necromancer.
  • Prophet of Kruphix continues to rise as people attempt to brew around it. It should hit $5 and will stay there thanks to casual popularity.
  • Scavenging Ooze is on the rebound as well. I like it enough in Standard as well as in Modern.
  • According to a Reddit thread, there’s an interesting U/W Aggro deck making waves at FNM at Saito’s shop in Japan. According to what I know about Japanese Magic, that’s a pretty big hotspot for good deckbuilders. I wouldn’t move in on any of these cards yet, but Ephara, Heliod, and Imposing Sovereign will rise in price if the deck is real.
  • Not too much Born of the Gods movement, as expected. My set review seems to be fairly accurate so far, with Brimaz continuing to rise a bit and the new scry lands starting to move up a bit as well. Ephara is ticking up too. I expect we’ll see how the format develops around these new cards quite soon.