Forecasting Standard

Chas Andres writes about the effect that Pro Tour Theros has had on Magic finance, his thoughts on the cards in Commander 2013 revealed thus far, and updates to his spec portfolio.

The weekend of the fall Pro Tour is usually pretty awesome for Magic finance, but Theros was the best ever. Instead of ending this week’s article with Theros’ gainers and losers, let’s use the list as a jumping-off point:

Rising Stock

Falling Stock          

The first rumblings I heard about the Mono-Blue Devotion deck were from Nick Becvar on Twitter on Thursday evening. By the way, if you aren’t already following this guy, change that ASAP. He is almost always ahead of the curve before a large tournament.

At that point, StarCityGames.com was already up to $10 and sold out of Masters, so I was locked out of buying any there for either my personal collection or the spec portfolio. I did end up buying some from another retailer, but Ben Bleiweiss was well ahead of the curve on this one. Two hours later, Master was up to about $10, and the cheaper copies were disappearing all over the web.

By the time I woke up the next morning—being on the West Coast is rotten for stuff like this because of the time difference—Master was already up to $15. At that point, people’s attention turned to Thassa. After all, if both cards were crucial to the Mono-Blue Devotion deck, why would Master shoot up while Thassa stayed at $13-$15? There were still plenty of $15 copies out there by midday, but by midafternoon they had sold out. It was a $25 card by Friday night.

Nykthos was the last of the trio to rise. Once people watched enough of the coverage to realize that the land would be plastered all over the Top 8, the card shot up fairly quickly. I was able to find a set under $5 a card after Thassa and Master had already climbed out of reach, but by Saturday morning there weren’t any copies left anywhere under $10. It’s at $15 retail now.

Of course, buying cards pre-spike only feels good when the retailer you buy from actually honors the sale. Like clockwork, once Monday morning rolled around, the Internet was flooded with stories from people whose orders for copies of Master, Nykthos, or Thassa were severely reduced or cancelled altogether.

First off, this is why StarCityGames.com is my first stop when speculating—especially when a card is blowing up all over the Internet. SCG doesn’t limit the number of cards you can buy and always honors their sales. When you know that a card is going to jump to $5, it’s far better to pay $1.50 at SCG and lock in your purchase than it is to pay $1 from some dodgy shop with no reputation that’s going to cancel your entire order.

Buying from a big retailer isn’t always an option though. If the folks at SCG are ahead of you on what’s being played at the Pro Tour, they’ll generally take the key cards off their store until they get a sense of how the deck performs. That’s what happened during Pro Tour Theros. In these cases, make sure you have a trusted small store or two bookmarked and ready to go. If you end up doing a frantic search for the best price at the last minute, you may find yourself ending up with zero copies of a card you knew was going to hit. 

I know I’ve said this before, but I simply don’t get why any vendor would discourage speculators from buying on their site. I feel like I have a better track record than most, and I still have boxes of garbage cards in my closet that went nowhere. Don’t you want me to hit up your store for 30 copies of Turdzor, Bulk Champion when I get drunk on a Friday night and decide that it’s the specing hour? Don’t you realize that speculators play Magic too and that I’m nearly always going to add some Commander foils on to my order? Don’t you think that maybe the trusted big names in Magic retail have the right idea with their "no limits, no cancellations" policies and that maybe you’re being shortsighted and greedy? You cheaters were fine selling Master of Waves for $6 last Wednesday just like you were fine charging $40 for Xenagos when he first came out, right?

Either honor all of your sales or refund players the difference when a card goes down in price. Period. Selling a card at the retail price you’re asking for means you’ve already won. Cancelling an order so that you can win even more while your customer loses is mean. It’s also bad business.

As an aside to this aside, I’m still flummoxed by people who are happy when a card they sell or trade goes down in price. This is similar to an argument I’ve had with Red Sox fans who are rooting for the Dodgers to fail because their offense is being powered by a couple of players the Red Sox traded them last year. Look—the trade is over. It isn’t going to be reversed no matter how well or poorly the players do. So which outcome is better for Boston?

1) The players traded from Boston to LA flop. The Dodgers are embarrassed. LA doesn’t want to deal with Boston anymore because they feel burned. The rest of the league shies away from dealing with Boston because their player evaluation was so good. If Boston is willing to give up a player, what does that say about them? Better to try to deal with a team that might accidentally trade away a diamond in the rough.

2) The players traded from Boston to LA flourish. LA is thrilled with the deal and can’t wait to trade with Boston again. The rest of the league is happy to trade with Boston because they want to get a good deal just like LA did. 

When you sell or trade a card, don’t get greedy and don’t sweat how the cards you no longer own are doing. If they go down in price, fine—you got out at the right time. If they go up in price, fine—sometimes it happens, and now you have a trading partner or customer who loves you. 

But assuming you were able to get at least a few of your spec targets during Pro Tour Theros, what is to be done with them now? Is Mono-Blue Devotion legit, or was it simply well positioned at Pro Tour Theros?

First off, I doubt the deck will ever do as well again as it did in Ireland last weekend. The format was basically unprepared for it, so the deck was able to run roughshod over everyone. The finals was a Mono-Blue Devotion mirror match! That’s not happening again.

On the other hand, Crystal Blue Persuasion—that’s what I’m calling the deck and you can’t stop me [Editor’s Note: I beg to differ.]—is more than just the flavor of the week. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how the deck is weak to Supreme Verdict, but Wafo-Tapa was playing an Esper Control in the Top 8 and still lost to Mono-Blue Devotion. One match is a small sample size to be sure, but it’s not like this is some joke deck that will never be seen again. Expect Heisenberg’s Blue to stay first tier—even if it gets strongly hated over the next few weeks, it will bounce back once the metagame evolves back toward G/W again.

When should you sell your Mono-Blue Devotion staples? Over the short term, you probably should have sold them last Sunday during the Top 8. Check out these charts, which are pretty typical after tournament-related spikes:  


The first chart is Master of Waves. The second is Thassa, God of the Sea. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’d expect both cards to stabilize around $20 retail. If you had sold last week, you probably could have gotten closer to $25.

The long-term price trends are going to be determined by how effective hate is against this deck. If it achieves a Caw-Blade level of dominance (unlikely), Master and Thassa will both hit an easy $35-$40. If not, we’ll probably see the prices drop off to $10-$15 levels over the holidays before rising again in the spring and beyond. If you are a short-term speculator, feel free to go for the quick flip—I’m currently trading my extra Masters for the other cards I need to build the deck for example. If you’re a more patient sort, feel free to wait. As long as the deck continues to perform, both of these cards have a shot to peak at or near $40 during a Standard high-water mark either this April or the next one.

The same is true for the other pieces of the deck, although cheaper cards like Nightveil Specter don’t have the ceiling that Master and Thassa due thanks to mythic versus normal rarity. I would sell these cards now—the price probably won’t go much higher.

So now that we know Mono Blue Devotion is legit, where do we turn? Is there any money in speculating on the cards that might best defeat the monocolored boogeyman?

Two other Top 8 decks from Pro Tour Theros have a good chance with a few more tweaks. Let’s check out Makihito Mihara’s G/R Devotion deck first:

First off, this deck is flippin’ scary. It is both resilient and explosive, especially because there isn’t much that a Mono-Blue Devotion player can do against a 15/15 Mistcutter Hydra attacking on turn 3 or 4. With a slightly tuned build, I think Mihara could have easily been the one to take down the Pro Tour with this concoction.

The first thing that stands out to me here is the sheer power of Nykthos. I feel like a lot of people were tentatively building with it going into the tournament, but after seeing what it did all weekend, I predict far more of these to show up going forward. The card is absurd with Polukranos, and I expect the mythic Hydra to stabilize between $7 and $12, with the land staying steady at $15 retail.

The planeswalkers are worth taking a look at here as well. Both Xenagos and Garruk were tanking hard before Dublin. But Garruk has started to rebound, and Xenagos’ drop has slowed considerably. Over the short term, I see both of these guys stabilizing between $15 and $20. Domri Rade might be a bigger winner though. He’s out of print now and steadily rising. I could see him hit $40 easily before this Standard season is over.

As for the Hydra itself, $4 seems about right. In-print sideboard cards rarely get much higher in value, and this card might paradoxically see more play and still lose value over the next few months.

What about Skylasher? Does it have an invitation to the hate-bear party now? Sure, but it’s worse than Mistcutter in the ramp deck, so really we’re talking about the sideboard of the G/W deck. That deck already has Advent of the Wurm for flash shenanigans, so I can certainly see Skylasher coming in as well. I don’t think the price can go up much though—normal rares that are hate cards tend not to.

The other deck worth looking at is Paul Rietzl B/W Midrange:

Why is this deck in particular worth discussing here? Let me quote Patrick Chapin, who also played Orzhov at the Pro Tour, from his tournament report that ran here last week:

By the end of the weekend before the Pro Tour, Nassif and others had determined that the devotion to blue deck was very strong; in fact, if everyone is just playing random decks, it’s probably the strongest. I haven’t seen the deck-by-deck win percentages from Theros yet, but I would guess that devotion to blue is the best-performing macro-archetype. Three in the Top 4 is obviously big, but it was seriously all over the place at the top tables. I played against it four times (including having to play teammates three times sadly).

Why didn’t I play the blue deck? I thought it was good, but I didn’t like its control matchups or its black matchups. I was pretty sure we had multiple good decks and that the B/W deck was the best positioned. Some players on the team, myself included, believed there would be a lot of devotion decks of various colors. Both the blue deck and B/W matched up well against other devotion decks, but B/W won the head-to-head, as well as had an edge against Esper.

The problem, as he goes on to say, is that B/W is weak against G/W while Thassa decks basically can’t lose to Advent of the Wurm shenanigans. So if you’re expecting a field similar to the SCG Open in Cleveland, you want to run Thassa and Master of Waves. If you’re expecting the Top 8 at Dublin, you want Obzedat, Thoughtseize, and Doom Blade. If you want to beat black decks, jam Voice of Resurgence. If you just want to durdle, play Esper Control.

The real core of this B/W Midrange deck is Obzedat, Desecration Demon, and Thoughtseize. Thoughtseize is already fairly stable, and the other two cards had giant value spikes long before the Pro Tour. While I could see them climbing a little more, I doubt they’ll spike much further. Blood Baron seems less good right now, and at this point Obzedat seems to be replacing it in most competitive contexts.

What about that G/W deck? Is it dead for good now? I doubt it—we’re in a bit of a rock/paper/scissors/Polukranos/Revelation situation right now, and if the black decks start to dominate, we’ll see Trostani and friends start to have more high-level finishes. It was only the week before the Pro Tour that these decks were dominating the format, and I expect we’ll see more high-level finishes from that deck before the curtain closes on this season. Not soon though—too many people are going to want to make Mono-Blue Devotion their thing.

Ultimately, I want to caution everyone from making too many rash decisions based on this event. The Pro Tour was less about what did poorly than what did well—just because G/W and U/W didn’t do that well doesn’t mean they’re dead, just that they weren’t the right choice last weekend. What we did prove is that Devotion decks are legit, which means that Nykthos, Mutavault, and all five Gods (yes, even Heliod) will come in and out of favor this season. It also means that the medium-term ceiling on shock lands is slightly lower than it was last week—if monocolored decks are competitive, some players won’t need to run them.

While I don’t condone blind speculation, I would seriously consider looking at Erebos, Liliana of the Dark Realms, Heliod, Pack Rat, Precinct Captain, Boros Reckoner, and other devotion-enabling cards that haven’t been run over by the Internet-hype train yet. I for one welcome our new monocolored overlords.

Commander Previews

It’s still early, but I want to touch on the new Commander cards since they’re fresh on everyone’s mind right now. Their immediate value won’t be determined until we get full decklists and see what other cards are in these. If we are lucky enough to get, say, a fetch land in each deck, the values will obviously become quite a lot more depressed than they would be otherwise.

While the initial print run of Commander decks is likely to be limited, don’t be scared that this is the second coming of Modern Masters or Commander’s Arsenal. This product will have a wide run, and the last set of Commander decks that WotC put out were readily available at retail for months. Yes, even the one with Scavenging Ooze. There is no need to pay more than retail for these anywhere.

If you want singles for casual play, I suggest waiting. These will bottom out a month or two after release before slowly starting to rise once the print run ends. If you want to spec on any of them for Constructed play, tread lightly until the lists are totally spoiled. I don’t recommend buying any of these yet.

In the meantime, a few words on each card we know about as of this writing. All of these thoughts are totally off the cuff, but I’d like to get the discussion started. Maybe there’s a sweet Constructed playable here that I’m missing!

Curse of Inertia – Allowing you to untap a permanent might create a janky combo loop at some point I guess. Otherwise it’s sort of just mediocre.

Diviner Spirit – This card has cool political implications but a low power level. I wish it had evasion or was a little cheaper.

Djinn of Infinite Deceits – Truly awesome in my wacky chaos deck. Powerful in multiplayer too!

Illusionist’s Gambit – Amazing trick. I want one for each of my blue decks in Commander.

Identity Nemesis – This is so close to good. If only it were Modern legal! As is, I don’t see it making waves in Legacy. It has to be a reasonable Cube card though.

Baleful ForcePhyrexian Arena is awesome, and I happily welcome this in my big-mana black decks.

Curse of Shallow Graves – Rewards for getting people to attack in Commander? Love that design space. We need fewer three-hour do-nothing durdle games in the format, and cards like this should help fix that problem.

Fallen Keeper – This thing is scary and cool. Fun card to try to build around.

Tempt with Immortality – This is certainly good enough for most black decks in Commander that want to play out of the graveyard. A future format staple.

Curse of Chaos – Looting isn’t as useful as a 2/2. Not quite as good as the other Curse, but still fine.

Bane of Progress – This thing is amazing in casual. I’m not sure how popular it will be seeing as many Commander players won’t want to blow their own stuff up, but it certainly makes mana rocks much worse and plays right into green’s natural strengths. It makes for a heck of a one-two punch with blink effects and Sylvan Primordial too.

Curse of Predation – I like all of these in concept, but I don’t know if they’ll make the leap from the preconstructed decks. I expect they won’t. Wish they were a little more powerful because I love what they’re trying to do.

Primal Vigor – The decks that want this are going to run it, and it’ll be worth something just like Doubling Season and Parallel Lives are. Might be a nice pickup at $1-$2 if it goes that low.

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician – Again, I like Commander cards that encourage attacking. This one is fine but a little narrow. The Eric Levine invitational card.

Gahiji, Honored One – This is an awesome political commander for playgroups where everyone likes value. Should be a multiplayer Naya staple. Attacking is encouraged? And you still get to rattlesnake? Sign me up!

Jeleva, Nephalia’s ScourgeGrixis already has a bunch of great commanders, and this might be one of the best. It’s certainly one of the most fun. This is the general I am most excited to brew with personally.

Marath, Will of the Wild – This guy does a decent amount of stuff but doesn’t seem all that powerful or fun to build around. He’s also no good unless you’re using him from the command zone. The weakest of the five new commanders.

Nekusar, the MindrazerHowling Mines are great in Commander because they keep the action flowing. This will see play.

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic – I like to see a good Esper alternative to old standbys Zur and Sharuum. This is a build-around card that plays more with the W/B side of Esper. I like it.

Prossh, Skyraider of Kher – There are so many great generals already for Naya-based token decks, so it’s nice to finally have one for Jund as well. This is narrow but very cool.

Sydri, Galvanic Genius – Sharuum gets a buddy! Auto-include in those decks.

Eye of Doom – This card was created specifically for Triad of Fates decks. Thank you, Wizards?

Surveyor’s Scope – Why were they so worried about making sure this was a "fixed" Land Tax when Land Tax is already Legacy legal? This does nothing most of the time, which is sad because it’s a cool idea.

That’s all we know so far. The power level seems weaker overall than the last bunch, but with only about half of the new cards known, it’s still a little early to judge. We’ll go over more of these next week!

Spec Portfolio – Week #8

Even though I was able to speculate on Mono-Blue Devotion cards in real life, StarCityGames.com was sold out of everything I wanted all weekend, and I was unable to improve the portfolio at all. I did pick up 23 more copies of Advent last week at $4, but since the card didn’t do much, it only went up to $5—a small gain that doesn’t yet make us a profit. Meanwhile, most of the other Standard fliers I made two months ago are going to need to make their bank as casual hits for me now.


In the interest of keeping things interesting, let’s make a few more speculative pickups, shall we? I’m gonna pick up ten Liliana of the Dark Realms at $6 each; ten Erebos, God of the Deads at $8 each; twenty Skylashers at $1.50 each; and ten Obzedat, Ghost Councils at $15 each. These are aggressive pickups designed to try to predict the next swing of the format toward black-based decks that I expect to attempt to prey on last week’s outpouring of blue. These aren’t purchases I’d make in real life—Erebos is probably the best of them—but it should make for an interesting experiment. Perhaps I should be a more aggressive speculator on a regular basis? We’ll find out!  

Until next time –

– Chas Andres