It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
We were supposed to discover Kozilek and the new colorless mana last weekend, transitioning into the holiday season with just a handful cool ideas about what Oath of the Gatewatch might bring. January would give us a rich spoiler season with a slow build-up to the Prerelease. Perhaps we would have gotten an epic expedition revealed to us on Christmas Day, similar to how Damnation was announced to the world several years ago.
Thanks to an anonymous leaker, however, we’ve got a fat stack of mythic rares and expeditions to talk about right now. I don’t like it, but I accept that it’s the reality we currently inhabit. Leaks like this can also be a goldmine for an astute speculator—Batterskull was a $5 card when it was first spoiled in New Phyrexia because everyone was too distracted by the entirety of the Godbook leak to give it too much attention.
So let’s take a break from wrapping presents and take a look at everything we know about Oath of the Gatewatch. After all, it looks like it’s going to be a pretty awesome set.
How hard will it be to ensure that you always have two colorless mana when you want to play Kozilek? I doubt it’ll end up being too difficult in a dedicated deck. Many of the current Eldrazi Ramp decks already run Shrine of the Forsaken Gods, Sanctum of Ugin, Hedron Archive, and multiple ways to make Eldrazi Scions. Oath of the Gatewatch is likely to bring a couple of other ramp goodies as well.
How many copies of Kozilek will the ramp deck want to run? That remains to be seen. It’s not as good off the top of your deck as Ulamog in most games because it doesn’t deal with threats on the board as well. Drawing up to seven cards is unbelievable, though, and the fact that it can turn the ramp spells you draw into situational counters means that the value of those seven cards goes up once Kozilek hits the battlefield. It’s no Sphinx’s Revelation—Kozilek doesn’t have flash, and it’s far less versatile—but I would guess that the ramp deck is going to want to run at least two or three copies.
How good will the ramp deck be in the new Standard? Well, it’s certainly not in the top tier right now—look at the decklists from the SCG Open and Invitational in Vegas, and you won’t see too many copies of Ulamog kicking around. Kozilek, Kozilek’s Return, and (hopefully) another set full of ramp and enablers should change that, though, it’s not like the deck is far off from being competitive right now—Atarka Red is holding it back, so at the very least it should be good once Khans of Tarkir rotates. Even when Ulamog was looking like a Standard bust, the giant Eldrazi was showing signs of stabilizing in the $12-$15 range thanks to casual interest. All of that leads me to believe that Kozilek has a short-term floor of about $15 with upside around $25-$30.
It’s hard not to compare Nissa, Voice of Zendikar to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Nissa is one mana cheaper, but Gideon is so much more powerful in every other respect. Gideon has an additional point of loyalty. He makes 2/2 Knight Allies instead of 0/1 Plants. His +1/+1 emblem affects every creature you play for the rest of the game, while Nissa’s only helps creatures currently on the battlefield. Gideon can win the game in combat by himself while Nissa has an ultimate that takes five unblemished turns to pull off.
Nissa has a few things going for her, however. She can come out, give everything +1/+1, and live to tell about it. And that ultimate is no joke—Sphinx’s Revelation isn’t an ability that should ever be underestimated at this point.
Most importantly, it doesn’t take much for a three mana planeswalker to be good. We’ve only had six of them: Ajani, Caller of the Pride, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, Dack Fayden, Domri Rade, Jace Beleren, and Liliana of the Veil. They’ve all been playable, with only Ajani, Caller of the Pride proving relatively disappointing. Nissa is better than Ajani, though, and her worst-case scenario is that she’ll end up as a useful support card in a deck or two. This is especially true considering how well she curves into a turn 4 Gideon. I’m certainly not suggesting you pre-order here—pre-ordering a hot new planeswalker rarely works out—but if you’re currently disappointed in how weak Nissa looks compared to Standard’s other planeswalkers, take another look at her converted mana cost and reconsider.
Chandra, Flamecaller has three very good abilities. She can put six power worth of creatures with haste onto the battlefield. She can re-shuffle your hand and draw you a card. She can come close to wrathing the battlefield. She’s a good draw if you’re ahead. She’s a good draw if you’re behind. She’s a good draw at parity.
Is that enough to make up for a converted mana cost of six, though? Other than that CMC, Chandra’s biggest problem is that she can’t protect herself. If a pair of hasty 3/1s aren’t going to do much to the battlefield (Siege Rhino and Dragonlord Ojutai laugh at them), you’re playing this as either an overpriced card draw spell or an overpriced Pyroclasm. That level of versatility is pretty good, but it feels like Chandra is a more controlling plus-one or a lower CMC away from being a format staple.
That might change in Shadows Over Innistrad, though. Chandra’s zero ability is absurd if you’re trying to fill your graveyard with Flashback spells, and she might be the centerpiece of some kind of U/R control deck this summer. Considering the fact that people might be underrating Chandra regardless, I’ll be looking to grab a set if she falls below $8.
Now this is a card! Eldrazi Ramp is already a real deck in Standard, but Kozilek’s Return should be enough to give it tier one status for the next couple of months. I’m not sure if the best deck will end up being R/G, Temur, or Grixis, but at this point it’s safe to say that red will be involved. It’s possible there will be two decks wanting to use this—a spell-based Grixis version and a ramp-based R/G one.
Kozilek’s Return will impact more than just Standard, though. Modern G/R Tron will likely mix and match this with Pyroclasm, allowing them to have a better game against Elves, Merfolk, and all manner of Jund and Abzan lists. Kozilek’s Return’s price will start high, and it should keep at least some of its value after leaving Standard. People are all over this card, though, so it’ll probably start its life as an expensive pre-order. I think it’ll settle in at $8-$10, so you should stay away if it debuts any higher than that.
In some Standard formats, Sphinx of the Final Word would be one of the two or three most important cards in the set. Sphinx of the Final Word is a dreamboat of a control finisher—it can’t be countered, can’t be targeted with removal spells, and it enables your future shenanigans to go off without a hitch? Yes, please!
How good will the Sphinx be in a Standard format with a pile of Eldrazi titans, Dragons, Siege Rhinos, and Mantis Riders though? I don’t know. I do think it’ll see play, and there’s a very real shot it’ll pull a Pearl Lake Ancient at some point and show up en masse at a Standard Pro Tour. I’m certainly buying a couple copies if it ends up at bulk prices, which is possible considering I’m not sure it slots well into any of the format’s existing control decks. Sphinx of the Final Word isn’t likely to make an impact straight away, but this is a card worth keeping an eye on.
Could Sphinx of the Final Word make an appearance in Vintage, Legacy, or Modern? Perhaps. It’s certainly a great first target in Legacy Reanimator, providing you’ve got the tools to combo off a couple more times and you just want some protection. Most ‘cheat this onto the battlefield’ decks are going to want Griselbrand or Emrakul, though, and casting a seven-drop creature in Eternal Magic formats is a dubious proposition. I expect it’ll show up in the sideboard of a deck here and there, but that’ll be about it.
Kalitas, Traitor to Ghet
If Anafenza wasn’t enough to keep Rally the Ancestors from becoming a top tier Standard deck, Kalitas is somehow even harder for that deck to deal with. Beyond its applications there, Kalitas is one of those grindy/midrange cards that is brimming over with raw power. A 3/4 body that can grow if needed is reasonable, lifelink is a very good ability, and the built-in sac outlet could end up being quite good once we get to Innistrad. The fact that Kalitas builds you an army through the incidental death of your opponents’ creatures is the reason to play the card, though, and there’s some talk of this taking over the Huntmaster spot in Modern Jund.
The biggest problem with Kalitas right now is that it doesn’t slot into an existing deck. I dislike pre-ordering cards that don’t have an obvious home. Kalitas is versatile enough to end up in multiple top decks, though, and it could finally be the card that puts Drana, Liberator of Malakir over the top. If you’re thinking about speculating on Kalitas, grab a few copies of Drana as well. If nether pan out over the short term, they’re certainly worth a second look once Innistrad spoilers start rolling in.
It’s worth paying extra attention to a mythic land, because that’s a massive red flag in terms of price tags that can get out of control in a hurry. A land doesn’t need to be that good in order to justify its spot in multiple decks, and this is probably an all-or-nothing proposition: If Mirrorpool is unplayable, it’s a bulk mythic. If Mirrorpool is good enough for Standard, it’ll probably be in multiple decks and at that point we’re talking about a $20 card with $60 upside.
If Mirrorpool didn’t enter the battlefield tapped, I think we could see some of that upside realized. As is, I’m not sure where this card wants to show up. You need another colorless source to activate it, and putting second copies of Ulamog and Kozilek onto the battlefield doesn’t really help you unless the first one is about to die. Eldrazi Ramp decks might want to run a couple of these, but I think it’ll end up closer to $3 than $30.
Crush of Tentacles is my favorite card in the set, but I doubt it will perform well in Standard. It doesn’t hit lands, so we’re not talking about a full Upheaval here, and casting this against Ulamog or Kozilek is likely to go about as well as Lorthos’ actual assault on an Eldrazi titan—their controller will be all too happy to re-buy that enters-the-battlefield trigger. The non-Surge version is certainly not very good, so a lot depends on what cheap spells pair well with this. Anticipate is certainly one, and it’s not awful with a grip of spot removal. This could end up being a staple in some kind of unforeseen tempo/control deck, but it’s far more likely to end up as a bulk mythic.
World Breaker can’t hit creatures, and its ability doesn’t trigger if you sneak it onto the battlefield. This card triggers Kozilek’s Return at seven mana, so it’s worth a look as a one-of or two-of in the Eldrazi Ramp decks. Some Commander players will want it, too, but it’s not as good as existing options like Woodfall Primus outside dedicated Eldrazi strategies. Looks like a $4-$5 mythic to me.
Sea Gate Ruins
Sea Gate Ruins might not be a perfect translation for this card – I’m doing the best I can with a little bit of high school French and Google Translate. That said, this is the card that taps for a colorless or has two and a colorless, tap: draw a card. Activate this ability only if you have no cards in hand.
The need for a colorless mana prevents Sea Gate Ruins from becoming a staple in most decks, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good card. Sea Gate Ruins doesn’t enter the battlefield tapped, and having a land that draws you extra cards without having to be sacrificed is very powerful. Mikokoro, Center of the Sea is a $12 card that was quite good in Standard. Providing you have enough colorless mana floating around, Sea Gate Ruins is better outside draw-go scenarios. This is the sort of card that people might ignore thanks to its forgotten place in the spoiler—don’t be one of them.
Russian Devoid Land
I can’t even pretend to translate this one—my Russian is only slightly better than my Klingon. It taps for colorless and it has a second ability that reads tap, pay one life: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool. Spend this mana only to cast devoid spells.
This might be played in a casual or semi-competitive devoid deck, but it’s very parasitic and most Eldrazi Ramp decks aren’t going to want to get their fixing this way because most ramp spells aren’t devoid. Future $1-$2 rare.
Again, this my translation, so the final card name might read slightly differently. At any rate, the R/W creature-land is indeed a double-striking Elemental. It’s just a 2/1, though, so it’s on the lower end of the creature-land power spectrum. It’s fine on an empty board, and it might be able to pick off a creature or two in the right matchup, but Lumbering Falls is just $1.50. Spiked Spires will see some play, but I doubt it will be worth more than $3-$4.
The New Expeditions
Here they are, complete with their current non-foil, non-expedition price tags:
· Wasteland – $70.95
· Horizon Canopy – $58.59
· Twilight Mire – $35.49
· Fetid Heath – $22.39
· Cascade Bluffs – $20.75
· Flooded Grove (projected) – $20.75
· Mystic Gate – $16.99
· Sunken Ruins – $15.49
· Ancient Tomb – $13.99
· Rugged Prairie – $12.99
· Fire-Lit Thicket – $12.39
· Wooded Bastion – $11.79
· Dust Bowl – $9.99
· Forbidden Orchard – $7.55
· Graven Cairns – $7.55
· Kor Haven – $7.49
· Strip Mine – $5.79
· Mana Confluence – $4.75
· Eye of Ugin – $4.49
· Tectonic Edge – $2.05
The silver lining about the spoiler dump is that we won’t have weeks of people using social media to speculate about reserved list cards (The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale!) or cards that couldn’t possibly exist on Zendikar (Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth!) showing up as an expedition in Oath of the Gatewatch. All of the cards WotC chose are actually pretty good, and both Wasteland and Horizon Canopy will be high-five-all-your-neighbors cards to open. Tectonic Edge might seem like a miss, but the card is very playable in Modern and the expedition version should trade very well. It’ll be easier to find a buyer for than, say, one of the Battle lands.
Just like the Battle for Zendikar expeditions, there’s no need to buy in early. These will all start 20-30% higher than they’ll end up, and you’ll have a nice opportunity to buy them in March. If you get an expedition at the Prerelease, trading it away is fine as long as you can get current retail in return.
It’s also worth remembering that the Battle for Zendikar Prerelease packs were likely at least somewhat seeded, and Oath of the Gatewatch should be, too. If you can get leftover packs at retail after your store finishes running events, you should do it.
Should you trade away your existing copies of expedition cards, foil or otherwise? Sure, if you want to, but there’s no real need to panic-sell these cards. The expeditions are printed in such small numbers that the supply isn’t really affected, and many Cube and Commander deckbuilders prefer original set foils regardless.
The Shadows Over Innistrad Duel Deck
The leak didn’t stop with Oath of the Gatewatch. We also got confirmation of two duel deck cards: Geist of Saint Traft, and a Demon for 2BB with trample, flying, self-mill 4 when it enters the battlefield, and lose 4 life every upkeep that you don’t have four different card types in your graveyard.
Let’s start with the Geist. Remember, this does not mean that Geist of Saint Traft will be in Shadows Over Innistrad! In fact, it is very likely not to be. Sun Titan was the mythic in the Theros duel deck, Arcanis the Omnipotent showed up in the Khans of Tarkir duel deck, and Avenger of Zendikar was a mythic rare in the Battle for Zendikar duel deck.
The Geist spoiler does mean that you should sell your existing copies of Geist as soon as you can. The card might make an impact in Modern at some point, but it isn’t seeing much play right now, and the market is about to be flooded. I’d be shocked if Geist maintains a price tag above $5-$6 once the duel deck hits shelves. It’ll be a nice long-term spec once the market is fully saturated, but that’s months away. If you can get the $10 that is current SCG retail in trade for these, you should jump on it.
The Demon—which has been roughly translated as Mindbreaker Demon—is a little more notable. I won’t speculate on what Standard will look like two full sets and one rotation away, but I will note that the format has been plagued by a 4/5 trampler for four since Khans of Tarkir was spoiled. Mindbreaker Demon comes with a drawback instead of a six point life swing, of course, but if you’re trying to fill your graveyard for some reason, this might be a nice midrange threat. Let’s check back in a few months from now and see how things develop.
This Week’s Trends
– Things should be quiet for the next few weeks as people hole up for their winter break. StarCityGames is running some pretty great holiday sales, and you should absolutely check them out if you’re into long-term speculation. One day, foil copies of Jeskai Ascendancy were available for just a buck each. Another day, SCG had expeditions cheaper than anyone else online. I usually avoid shameless SCG promotion lest I be accused of being a total shill (I probably will be anyway), but there are some really killer deals here. Check them out every day at 11 AM if you want to beat the rush.
– Standard is still dropping as the holidays approach, though Painful Truths saw a mini-spike thanks in part to the glowing article Patrick Chapin wrote about the card last week. If you’re a regular reader of this column, you know that I’ve been a fan of the card from the start. Buying copies for less than $2 still seems good to me, and I’d like to own a set or two going into the spring Standard season.
– Ensnaring Bridge saw yet another spike and buyout. As prison strategies continue to do well in Modern, this pre-Mirrodin rare becomes more of a financial choke point. I doubt it can sustain its current price, but there is some real demand here. Selling into the spike is safe, and likely right, but feel free to hold onto these if you’re planning on using them in Modern.
– WotC announced a major Limited initiative for MTGO in 2016. Every weekend other than during set releases, there will be a new throwback draft format starting at the very beginning of Modern and moving forward.
There are a couple of things you should know about this. First, it’s likely to raise the price of some old booster packs on MTGO. Some are 1 or 1.5 tix per pack, and they should all hit at least 2 tix when their draft season is live. Picking these up now is like finding free money.
Second, if you’re looking to increase your MTGO portfolio, you could do a lot worse than buying copies of each set’s top staples during Flashback weekend, holding them for a few weeks, and then re-selling them. As long as you pick the right cards and buy at the right time, it’s hard to lose by doing this. Put in a couple of hours each week, and you should have enough money by the end of 2016 to grab a playset or two of the latest rotating sets.
– I submitted this article a few days early, and next week will be my annual look back at the year in Magic finance along with a set of brand new predictions for the coming year. That said, I’ll be taking off about a week and half so that I can enjoy the holiday season with friends and family. Unless any major news breaks between now and New Year’s Day, I’ll see you all in 2016!